David Farbman on: Diverse Economic Ideas

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I continually hear about the need for more alternative energy jobs from our politicians in Lansing. We could be a true energy capital in America someday, and it is exciting! While I both support and appreciate the potential upside to these government backed ventures and understand that they can be game changers, I think we also should pay close attention to some overlooked sectors. In my opinion, we need jobs, and we need them now! I propose that Michigan focus on two often overlooked business sectors — non-automotive industrial manufacturing of products that have been previously pushed overseas, and Internet start-ups with smart business plans and capable leaders. Heck, I feel so passionate about this; I’d sit on a committee to help guide it!

Let’s talk about non-automotive manufacturing for a minute. We have a robust, readily available labor force that understands manufacturing from designing, producing, and installing assembly lines to integrating robotics and sophisticated computer systems inside the plants. We have an abundance of vacant, high-quality, re-usable industrial space with vacant land adjacent to the sites for green energy initiatives. Michigan has a strong relationship with the White House, and we should present President Obama’s administration with sound financial plans that benefit America, along with concrete ways that Michigan can benefit from new investment. Why not create incentives for buying American manufactured products as a state, and more importantly, as a country? Why not create appropriate import taxation on goods coming in from China, Mexico, and other foreign countries to even the playing field? Yes, there will need to be compromise with labor pricing, but that seems quite doable to me.

The American public, I believe, really cares about supporting American made goods today, so let’s capitalize on it. What better place to manufacture these goods then in Detroit where we have all of the pieces in place? What is wrong with textiles being made right here in Detroit? What is wrong with looking inside my t-shirt at a label reading “Made in the USA?” I like the way that reads!

Moving to the other end of the spectrum, let’s talk about Internet startup companies. First, let’s discuss what has changed the most over the last few years. I bet you already guessed what I am about to say, the answer is capital. Where has all the money gone? Angel money has largely evaporated, and there is a lack of incentives to move or locate technology startups around the country. In fact, rents in Silicon Valley, L.A., Chicago, New York, and other major cities are still very expensive. When you combine high rents with a lack of capital, it spells opportunity for states like Michigan. The days of snagging a million bucks for a dot-com idea and a cute smile are history. If we want to make Michigan a hub for startup tech companies, then we need to cater to their needs, and that need is — you guessed it — capital and incentives. Let’s offer a compelling business case to lure startups and up and coming companies, and believe me they will locate here from California faster than you can say “Detroit.”

Move quickly, however, as other states will catch on and make similar offers. We have a huge talent pool of programmers and tech oriented engineers due to our automotive backbone, so let’s tap their expertise and ingenuity.

Rather than trying to knock the ball out of the park every time with massive tax credits, or cash infusion deals, we should focus on the above sectors. What’s wrong with bringing real jobs that pay people steady salaries to do things they already know how to do? What’s wrong with attracting Internet companies that will hire our young talent and give them a reason to stay here, or even come here from out of state? It would be great to see the next great search engine built right here in Michigan. I think this whole lets do it different thing is right, but let’s be realistic about our needs and be realistic about our desired outcome for Michigan. By all means keep moving on fuel cell research, high tech battery plants, and wind power, but let’s put some labor to work and build some cool companies that spawn a better day for Michigan!

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