The Pandemic and Parks: Lessons COVID-19 Reinforced About the Value of Public Spaces and Outdoor Recreation

When a global pandemic kept people home from their offices, schools, businesses, and vacations, millions of Michiganders “re-discovered” their public parks, where they could safely hang with friends and family and decompress. This increased attendance underscores the need for increased investment and staffing solutions.

“The true value of public parks is a lesson that must outlast the pandemic to ensure that these resources and the significant value they bring to us intrinsically and economically last for generations to come,” said Amy McMillan, director of Huron-Clinton Metroparks.

McMillan was joined by fellow panelists Alicia Bradford, parks director for the Office of the Wayne County Executive, and Dan Eichinger, director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, in a conversation moderated by the City of Detroit’s and WWJ Newsradio 950’s Vickie Thomas.

Managing Increased Attendance

Thomas aptly described the state’s parks and public as “our saving graces” throughout the pandemic when so many were seeking a way to escape and connect safely. This is evidenced by significant increases in attendance at parks across the state and participation in outdoor recreation activities like golfing, camping, biking, and boating.

Despite experiencing declining rates over several years, McMillan shared that attendance increased by 35%. Bradford noted similar increases in Wayne County’s parks – around 25-30%. Eichinger also shared how these increases impacted a key milestone for the state; though the state usually reaches its one millionth camp night in October, it was able to reach that benchmark by August this year.

Staffing, Infrastructure Maintenance Remain a Challenges

Despite the positive impacts of the increased attendance driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, the rapid influx posed both challenges and opportunities for improving spaces and services. Just as with the broader business community, staffing and labor shortages continue to be an issue for the state’s parks and public spaces.

Bradford cited particular difficulties with staffing maintenance workers in Wayne County. Competition with other industries and businesses offering signing bonuses and new benefits has proven difficult, especially for these entities that have restricted government funding.

Further, this uptick in traffic to local outdoor spaces has taken a toll on physical infrastructure, exacerbating existing needs for targeting investment and updates.

“There are a lot of facilities that were brand spanking new in the 1950s and the 1960s, and we’re still kind of coasting on the fumes of those investments,” Eichinger said. “There’s a lot of work for us to do, I think, in you know, trying to build up a contemporary system that is relatively easy for us to manage, that the facilities are in good condition, where it’s relatively easier for us to recruit and retain employees.”

What’s Needed Next

Though these challenges remain, they go to show just how essential these outdoor resources are for Michigan’s residents and their physical, mental, and economic health. These spaces should be treated as priorities in terms of strategic investment and funding. In the meantime, leaders are exploring innovative ways to update and optimize visitors’ experiences.

McMillan, for instance, shared how Metroparks is using allocated funds to focus on updating trails and improving accessibility.

Bradford noted a trend of visitors requesting WiFi in certain areas of their parks where they have been working remotely, and although they encourage people to use the parks to enjoy and disconnect, her team is receptive to their visitors’ needs.

“We’ve been tapped on to look at putting in electric vehicle charging stations,” Bradford said. “And then just really opening up and engaging our waterways and promoting those even more.”

Eichinger also acknowledged the state’s responsibility to increase its efforts in urban and underserved areas as an essential step toward the successful, inclusive future of these valued spaces.

“I would like to see us be a lot more intentional about being present and active in urban communities providing outdoor recreation services,” he said.

Thank you to Huron-Clinton Metroparks for hosting this session.

Plagues Have Playbooks: Nicholas Christakis on the Enduring Impact of COVID-19

By James Martinez

In early 2020, Dr. Nicholas Christakis knew the COVID-19 virus deserved serious attention. The Yale professor had been collaborating with Chinese scientists for several years using cell phone data to study human interactions. Tracking data from the movements of 11 million people, he and others were able to predict the timing, intensity and location of the pandemic early on throughout China.

Growing more concerned, he sounded the alarm about the risks of public transmission in the U.S. by tweeting basic epidemiology information.

“To my amazement many of these threads went viral and gave me the idea that there was a lot of hunger out there for such information,” said Christakis.

The experience prompted the best-selling author, physician and sociologist to write “Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live.” Starting in March 2020, he completed the book in just four months.

One of the overarching themes of the book is that challenges and responses during times of pandemic, both good and bad, are timeless dating back to ancient times despite modern society’s technological and medical advances.

“(We) think that this experience we’re having is so alien and not natural, but it’s not. Plagues are not new to our species, they’re just new to us. We think it’s crazy what’s happening. But our ancestors have been confronting plagues for thousands of years,” said Christakis. “And in fact, this plague is not as bad as some of the plagues that our ancestors had to deal with, but it is nevertheless following a playbook.”

That playbook is comprised of responses and factors such as fear, denial, superstition, the rapid spread of misinformation, and the undermining of science and health experts, which have long accompanied the spread of germs, according to Christakis.

Those elements of the pandemic wreaked havoc on early mitigation efforts and continue to undermine vaccination efforts. This has provided the paradox of the United States’ ability to develop and administer highly effective vaccines in record time, but inability to convince many people to get vaccinated.

“The problem is most Americans have not personally experienced serious epidemics. And so although it’s in our historical memory, and we have medical historians and epidemiologists and other experts in our society who can understand this situation, the citizen on the street doesn’t have that personal experience, so we took it lightly.”

ON THE CONTINUUM OF PLAGUES – COVID-19 COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE 

As bad and tragic as the current pandemic has been and continues to be, Christakis points out that the lethality of pathogens varies and COVID-19 was not as deadly as smallpox or cholera.

In other words, when we are beyond it, things likely could have been worse, and perhaps the next one will be.

“I want people to understand the reality of the situation,” said Christakis.  “This is why for decades, the CIA and the White House, and other organs of government have rightly seen pandemics as national security threats. They are a threat to our way of life. Just as much as we might fear human enemies, we should fear viral enemies. They could destroy our way of life.”

PREPARED FOR THE NEXT PANDEMIC? IT MAY BE A MATTER OF TIMING 

For Christakis, the level of preparedness for the next pandemic will largely come down to timing. If too long passes before the next serious pandemic, people may have collectively forgotten or downplayed the hardships and lessons presented by COVID-19.

“I fear that if the next one comes more than 30 years from now, everything will happen again. We’ll make the same mistakes again,” said Christakis. •

James Martinez is a freelance writer and content creation consultant in Metro Detroit. 

Polarization in Politics: Political Veterans Weigh in on Democracy and the Road to Bipartisanship

With national politics as polarized as ever, the health of democracy is drawing increased attention as the Mackinac Policy Conference again brings national thought-leaders to Michigan’s Center Stage. This year includes former United States National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien, who served under President Trump, and former chairman of the Republican National Committee and MSNBC Political Analyst Michael Steele. They answered questions from the Detroiter prior to the Conference.

In your opinion, what is the overall health of the U.S. democracy today? 

ROBERT C. O’BRIEN: Our democracy is strong and resilient. We have been through many turbulent times since our founding, including a fragile start to the nation under the Articles of Confederation, a Civil War, World Wars, the Great Depression and the 1960s. Recent events in America have been trying but the genius of the Founders and the strength of the Constitution have been proven over and over again. American democracy will persevere through the current polarized political climate. I like to tell people to “never bet against the United States.”

MICHAEL STEELE: Democracy is only as healthy as her people; and I would say we’re not feeling too well at the moment. When the people stop believing in the promise of America; when they find solace in conspiracies and lies, demagogues, and

weak leadership there is a sickness which is more profound than we may realize and it affects all of us. Recovery comes when we demonstrate we are willing to hold ourselves and each other accountable – first for the sickness, and then for how we recover as one people.

Given the internal push and pull to the left and right in both parties, what do you think about the sustainability of the two-party system? 

RO: The two-party system in America is entrenched and durable. We do not have proportional representation in our Congress like most Europeans or the Israelis do, so the likelihood of a Green Party or far right party emerging and making an impact in Congress is small. There have been viable third-party presidential contenders in the past such as Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose comeback attempt or Ross Perot’s two runs in the 90s, but those movements did not out last their charismatic leaders.

MS: The current state of the two-party system is unstable at best; certainly, it is changing as the priorities of both parties are shifting closer to the political extremes. We have witnessed both parties deconstruct democratic principles through vacuous soundbites, fundraising off crass behavior and rhetoric, appeals to tribalism and no accountability. Now we know why many of the Founders were less than enthusiastic about the formation of political“factions”.

Is there a path to a more bipartisan political climate in the U.S., if so, how do we get there? 

RO: We need to return to being friends with each other. The idea that friends or families would split over politics is very sad. We must emphasize our American identity before we move on to our political identity. When I was an 18-year-old intern at the RNC in Washington, the first call I received on the job was from my Democratic hometown Congressman, Doug Bosco. He welcomed me to DC and invited me to attend all of his office’s intern program events. I have never forgotten Doug’s kindness. We need more of that type of reaching across the aisle today.

MS: We will get on the path to bipartisanship when we decide that “bipartisanship” is not a dirty word. Until we not only recognize its value to the body politic but are willing to use its tools as a legitimate means of governing ourselves, we will continue to find ourselves mired in a cesspool of lackluster leadership, poor results, and just bad politics.

Designing Detroit’s Future

Duggan Administration Energized as it Eyes Third Term

By Karen Dybis

As Detroit’s mayor, Mike Duggan keeps his core values front and center: He wants Detroiters to have access to jobs, affordable housing, health care and, over the last 18 months, a sense that a pandemic-besieged city can come out on the other side.

Mayor Duggan, who is seeking his third term this November, is a favorite speaker at Mackinac Policy Conference. In a question-and-answer interview, he talks about getting back to in-person meetings, boosting jobs and job skills for Detroiters, and how he hopes to create equity across all parts of the city.

Is there a renewed energy among your team to get work done in Detroit? 

There’s no doubt about it. We have $826 million in the American Rescue Plan where we had to make decisions and get (proposed spending) approved by City Council. We held 60 community meetings in basically 30 days. Everybody was energized. Everyone was hosting meetings, half in person, half on Zoom. We successfully got the plan through City Council in June. It wasn’t just people came back to work to come back to work. They came back to work with the opportunity to design the city’s future.

The past year has had many challenges, including issues related to equity and inclusion. How have you handled that?  

There were more than 200,000 who left Detroit in the decade before I got elected. The folks who stayed wanted to make sure that they benefitted from staying, and I think we’ve seen it. Property values have gone up. The unemployment rate is way down. We’ve done things like the Chrysler Jeep plant, where the first 3,000 people they hired were all Detroiters. It’s core to what we’re doing as an administration – we’re creating a city that benefits the people that stayed.

Karen Dybis is a freelance writer in Metro Detroit.

Tune In: Mackinac Policy Conference Preview and Live Coverage

The iconic “Mackinac Policy Conference” will take place September 20 – 23, 2021 and will spotlight three pillars for cultivating a healthy Michigan – with focus to accelerate COVID-19 economic recovery, advance racial equity, and invest in the health of people and communities.

This year marks DPTV’s 11th year of coverage as we provide viewers with access to nearly all of the Conference’s sessions live and make them available for on-demand viewing.

A healthy Michigan also depends on good quality jobs. Kicking off in Mackinac, One Detroit will launch its year-long initiative, The Future of Work. As part of the conference, “One Detroit” anchor Christy McDonald will interview Walgreen’s CEO, Rosalind Brewer about women in leadership. Throughout the week, McDonald, will continue to interview local and national decision-makers on issues that impact viewers’ lives and community including the future of the auto industry, DEI in the workforce, and the healthcare industry.

Featured presenters include CNN Presidential Historian Douglas Brinkley; Rosalind Brewer, CEO of Walgreens; Michael Steele, Former Chairman of the Republican National Committee; Mayor of Detroit Mike Duggan; Governor Gretchen Whitmer; and more.

View the original article.

Carrying on the Levin Legacy

The Levin Center Promotes Bipartisan, Fact-Based Governing
By James Martinez

Senator Carl Levin’s brand of public service focused on integrity, candor and bipartisanship, and he placed a premium on Congress’ responsibility to provide public and private sector oversight that put people first.

“I do believe that a politician has an obligation to identify injustice and try to eliminate or at least minimize it. And I do believe that politicians can write laws that will improve the lives of the people they seek to serve. And that is what I tried to do,” wrote the senator in his recent memoir.

Throughout his 36-year career in Washington, Senator Levin held key leadership positions on committees that led dozens of major investigations ranging from Enron to unethical practices in the finance industry to the 2008 financial crisis. He did not shy away from the difficult conversations and remained determined to bring accountability and thoughtful policy solutions to government.

That legacy is carried on today by the Levin Center at Wayne Law School, which focuses on promoting fact-based, bipartisan oversight by Congress and the 50 state legislatures. It also encourages civil dialogue on major public policy issues.

“We all have a responsibility to maintaining a fact-based public square without which our democracy can’t function and we can’t tackle major problems such as vaccines, climate change, and infrastructure,” said Jim Townsend, director of the Levin Center and a former state representative. “So, our focus on bipartisan, fact-based oversight is about raising the quality of legislative fact-finding and pushing to make lawmakers accountable for upholding basic norms of truthfulness and integrity.”

The Center, where the late Senator taught and shared his insights and experiences with students, offers academic coursework, training programs, symposia, and research. Its programming is designed to encourage future and current leaders to embrace their role in promoting honest and open government, maintaining the public trust, and holding public and private institutions accountable to high ethical and transparency standards.

“Bipartisan fact-finding, bipartisan investigations tend to be more thorough and in-depth,” said Townsend. “We have found that lawmakers and staff raise their game in an investigation when both parties have a significant role and bring their own perspectives to the work, rather than having a single-party echo chamber that begins the inquiry with a foregone conclusion.”

Upon Levin’s retirement in January 2015, Wayne State University and the Wayne Law School along with supporters, friends, and former staff established the Center, which includes bipartisan advisory board and staff. In his memoir, the Senator credited Elise Bean, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Eugene Driker, and Linda Gustitus with leading efforts to create the center.

Expect the Unexpected

GM’s Mark Reuss Looks to a Sustainable Post-Pandemic Future
By Paul Eisenstein

It began almost imperceptibly, as workers along the line began falling ill. Within weeks, it soon was apparent, COVID had come to America and, like much of the country, the auto industry needed to respond with drastic measures. Workers were sent home. Factories shut down, and a downturn to rival the Great Recession seemed inevitable.

Despite the dire forecasts, the auto industry has pulled through much better than expected. If anything, manufacturers have used the crisis to make massive changes impacting everything from the way factories operate to the way vehicles are sold. And there are more changes to come, President Joe Biden recently signed an executive order accelerating the shift from internal combustion engines to battery power.

At General Motors, President Mark Reuss is a key player in the company’s response to COVID, as well as its push into electrification. The comparison to GM’s role in World War II, as part of the “Arsenal of Democracy,” is “an opt one,” Reuss said. Not only did GM have to set in place protocols for reopening its factories, it also began the “Herculean task” of rolling out the ventilators and masks desperately needed to fight the pandemic.

“And through it all, we never wavered from our commitment to EVs and realigning our product portfolio. In fact, we doubled down,” said Reuss. Just weeks before the March 2020 industry shutdown, CEO Mary Barra announced GM would invest $20 billion in its electrified and autonomous vehicle program. That figure now stands at $35 billion.

“We view electric vehicles as a growth business, and believe the best way General Motors can keep the recovery going is by doing exactly what we’re doing – leading the charge toward an all-electric future by launching new EVs, pushing for EV adoption and infrastructure installation and keeping Americans employed by the tens of thousands,” said Reuss.

This means a continued emphasis on “sustainability.” That has numerous interpretations, including long-term profitability but, “For the purposes of Mackinac, “the way to look at sustainability is in the context of helping the planet and fighting climate change,” said Reuss – who believes the shift to EVs “will happen more quickly than most people can imagine.”

OVERCOMING CHALLENGES CREATED BY PANDEMIC 

GM’s goal is to eliminate sales of vehicles using internal combustion engines by 2035. For now, however, the company has more immediate challenges, including disruptions from the ongoing pandemic. “This is an insidious virus with multiple variants and it’s not going to go away on its own,” said Reuss.

The automaker nearly had to cut production at a plant in Missouri due to a shortage of manpower in July. And that highlights the challenge it – like much of America – faces hiring new workers.

GM, he said, is in “hiring mode,” adding social media to traditional recruiting means, and reaching out through “friends and families (of) our current team.” The good news is that the focus on a high-tech future is helping GM – and its competitors – win the sort of talent that, for many years, steered clear of the auto industry.

One of the biggest challenges stemming from the pandemic has been the shortage of semiconductor chips. According to a study by AlixPartners, the industry will take at least a $110 billion hit due to lost production and sales. While GM had to trim production of some truck models like the highly profitable Chevrolet Silverado in July, it’s fared better than many rivals.

“The chip shortage has really reinforced the creativity and agility of our teams to manage just about any issue,” Reuss said. “We plan for all kinds of scenarios, and I think anybody who looks at our balance sheet would have to say we are weathering the storms pretty well.”

EXCEEDING WALL STREET’S EXPECTATIONS 

Despite production cuts and slim inventories, the automaker delivered a net profit of $2.8 billion for Q2, handily exceeding Wall Street expectations.

“It sounds cliché to say, ‘Expect the unexpected.’ But what else could be the lesson of the last year or two? And who knows what’s going to be next? You can’t just sit around and wait for the locusts to roll in,” said Reuss. “You have to plan proactively and resolve to react quickly and decisively, to anything.”

Paul Eisenstein is publisher and editor-in-chief of automotive news site TheDetroitBureau.com.

Important Health Instructions for Attendees

The Detroit Regional Chamber has protocols in place in ensure the health and safety of Conference attendees.

Please do not attend the Conference if you have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 14 days or if you are showing COVID-19 symptoms and awaiting COVID-19 test results.

During the Conference, immediately isolate from others and contact the Detroit Regional Chamber at 313-550-7827 if you:

  • Are experiencing potential COVID-19 symptoms;
  • Suspect you have COVID-19;
  • or learn you have had close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last 14 days.

COVID-19 Symptoms

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with COVID-19 report mild symptoms to severe illness. Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus and include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or think you might have COVID-19, immediately stop attending Conference events and notify the Chamber via the instructions above. You should also consult your doctor for medical advice.

Emergency Warning Signs of COVID-19

If you experience any of the emergency warning signs of COVID-19, seek medical care immediately:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, nail beds, depending on skin tone

The Mackinac Island Medical Center is available for 24/7 emergency care. For emergencies, call 911.

COVID-19 Testing

The CDC recommends that anyone with signs or symptoms of COVID-19 get tested, regardless of vaccination status or prior infection. Due to limited resources on the island, we recommend that if you experience COVID-19 symptoms or think you have COVID-19, you should leave the Conference and obtain a COVID-19 test near your home, in most cases.

The Mackinac Island Medical Center offers limited testing Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. by appointment only. Because the Center only offers four rapid tests per day, we ask that you only use this option if there is a serious need to avoid overwhelming the Center. To make an appointment, call 906-328-2158.

If you get tested because you have symptoms or were potentially exposed to the virus, you should stay away from others pending test results and follow the advice of your health care provider or a public health professional. If you test negative, you may resume Conference activities as time allows. If you test positive, please follow the CDC’s guidance and isolate for 10 days and consult with your doctor for further disease management.

Contact Tracing

In accordance with state and local laws and regulations, the Chamber will collaborate with local and state health officials to notify them of any known case of COVID-19 among Conference attendees. To help protect other Conference attendees, the Chamber will also collaborate with local/state health officials to conduct contact tracing and advise those who have had close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19 to monitor their health for signs and symptoms of COVID-19, in alignment with privacy laws.

The CDC indicates that those who are fully vaccinated do NOT need to quarantine after contact with someone who had COVID-19 unless they have symptoms. However, the CDC recommends that individuals who have had close contact (within six feet for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period) with someone with confirmed COVID-19 be tested 3-5 days following a known exposure, even without symptoms, and wear a mask indoors in public for 14 days following exposure.

Purpose Driven: PNC Taps Harold Ford to Harness Power of Market to Promote Equity

By Paul Vachon

Former congressman Harold Ford Jr. is optimistic about change ahead.

In his current role as CEO of Empowerment & Inclusion Capital Corp., and Vice Chairman of PNC Bank, he sees a not-to-distant future when most, if not all, American companies will be led by boards and management teams that practice diversity that extends to women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community.

He has good reason to be confident. His employer, PNC Bank, has introduced several initiatives aimed at achieving equality. In the wake of the racial justice movement in 2020, the PNC Foundation committed to contributing $1.5 billion to efforts working to combat racism, empower African Americans, and bring about economic opportunity for low- and moderate-income communities.

Providing share holder value while promoting inclusive economic growth

In 2020, a PNC board member who is a senior manager at Microsoft noted that just as the tech company leverages technology to work toward equality, a financial giant like PNC can do likewise with its resources.

The idea was then hatched to sponsor a SPAC, or Special Purpose Acquisition Company, with the goal of purchasing an existing private company to further promote diversity. PNC Bank approached Rep. Ford to spearhead the initiative. Hence the creation of the Empowerment and Inclusion Capital Corp.

SPACs exist for the sole purpose of raising capital and acquiring another company with the intention of achieving a predefined goal, in this case a more equitable and inclusive society. Sponsors come together and put up the at-risk capital, including the costs of consultants, lawyers, etc.

Ford explains that once the partner company is acquired, the mission is to “take all of the profits and invest them in initiatives supporting the economic empowerment and inclusion of underrepresented groups.”

The Empowerment and Inclusion Capital Corp., debuted on the New York Stock in March 2021 and trades under the ticker symbol EPWR. To date, it has researched several potential partner companies, but is not yet ready to consummate an acquisition.

In the meantime, PNC continues with its broader goal of promoting diversity and inclusion at every opportunity while setting a positive example.

“A number of other companies are working toward achieving diversity,  including Netflix, Google, and Microsoft,” says Ford. “We (at PNC) want to be part of the pantheon of awareness that leads to an even bigger intentionality for companies to make a difference in this way.”

What is the key to bringing more diversity to the financial sector or mortgage industry? 

Stacey Cunningham, President, New York Stock Exchange

We need to advance diversity across the entire corporate landscape, Wall Street included. Our capital markets can play a powerful role when investors demand change by allocating dollars to companies that are prioritizing diversity. At the NYSE, and through our parent company ICE, we arm investors with ESG data that informs their investment decisions. We are also leveraging our brand and CEO network to deliver a solutions-based approach by identifying and placing diverse independent directors with our Board Advisory Council. The key is for us all to take action, as our collective efforts are critical to driving meaningful change.”

Jay Farner, Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Hiring diverse talent is a top priority at Rocket Companies as we continue growing our FinTech businesses. We have partnered with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and diverse student organizations at many other universities, to recruit new talent. In fact, we surpassed our goal of hiring 10% of this year’s summer interns from HBCUs. Rocket Companies remains committed to keeping DEI in our DNA and leveraging our culture to enact lasting, positive change.”

 

Suzanne Shank, President and Chief Executive Officer, Siebert Williams Shank & Co., LLC

After 33 years on Wall Street, what’s most encouraging is that improvements in DEI in employment and procurement are at the forefront of senior leadership team and corporate board agendas. The most glaring issue is that diversity declines dramatically as you move up the corporate ladder.   Wall Street must look at the pipeline of talent and do a better job ensuring bias and preconceived perceptions are not playing a role in advancement decisions. DEI must be viewed as a responsibility and priority throughout each firm at every level.”

Paul Vachon is a freelance writer in Metro Detroit. 

Unprecedented Opportunity: Governor Talks American Rescue Plan, Equity, and Economic Growth

 

What’s the biggest obstacle to sustaining economic growth? 

There continues to be an incredible demand for talent. The pandemic has only intensified this challenge. From engineering to skilled trades, we know Michigan’s workforce is one of our greatest assets from a business attraction standpoint. But as industry changes, particularly the shift from combustible engine to EVs, jobs are changing too. We are being proactive in getting Michiganders the retraining, upskilling, and certifications that will be critical both to ensuring our businesses have the workforce they need to grow but also making sure people all across this state are able to get a good paycheck and path to economic security.

What steps would you like to see to advance racial justice and equity in Michigan? 

We have a lot more work to do to promote racial justice and foster inclusivity, diversity, and equity. It’s important that we take time to reflect on what we have learned and how, together, we can create a more equitable, inclusive and resilient economy for every Michigander. I proudly created the Black Leadership Advisory Council, dedicated to eradicating and preventing inequity in education, community safety, business leadership, and health to advance our shared goal of justice into each sector of the state.

As we navigate the pandemic, it is critical that we continue to offer inclusive, targeted support for both new and existing businesses if we want to achieve comprehensive, meaningful, and generational success for the people, businesses, and communities of Michigan.

Where do we need to invest more resources to create a healthier, more resilient Michigan? 

We must continue to jumpstart our economy which means increasing incentives to boost wages to attract applicants, providing grants to small businesses to ramp up hiring, and expanding access to childcare for families with young children who want to return to work but cannot. We have the unprecedented opportunity to take advantage of federal stimulus funds and our $3.5 billion state budget surplus to invest in our communities by making long-term, lasting investments that will benefit all residents, and create comprehensive strategies that will help drive long-term economic growth.

We recently introduced our Economic Jumpstart Plan which pours $1.4 billion in childcare to make 150,000 more kids eligible for low or no-cost care, and offers small businesses grants up to $20,000 to cover rent, taxes, payroll, or any operating expenses. Whether we are utilizing our $10 million federal grant to support registered apprenticeship expansion efforts to increase employment opportunities or creating a tuition-free path to an associate degree or a skills certificate through MI Reconnect – each investment puts Michiganders first and prioritizes economic development in our communities.

Quentin Messer Jr. recently took the helm at the MEDC. How do you think the MEDC’s strategy will change as we move beyond the pandemic? 

We are so excited to have Quentin as CEO at the MEDC. He has an incredible passion and energy for economic development and a competitive spirit. Most importantly, he understands that at its core, economic development must lead to meaningful economic opportunity at the individual level. If the impact of economic growth is not reaching every region and every resident in our state, we are doing something wrong. That was the foundation of the economic strategy before the pandemic, and it is the foundation today. So, while the pandemic, and industry trends may require us to adjust our tactics, we remain confident in the overall strategy. It has weathered this pandemic, and ensures we are in the best possible position for a strong economic recovery on the other side.

And now with Quentin, we are going to put that in overdrive and get to work building a championship economy here in Michigan.

Note: Answers were edited for length and clarity.