Detroit Regional Chamber > Detroiter Magazine > From the President: Michigan’s Path to a Growing Population

From the President: Michigan’s Path to a Growing Population

December 19, 2023

Think Anew, Think Differently, and Think With the ‘Power of &’

Since the turn of the millennia a couple decades ago, the United States grew in population by 50 million – 281 million to 331 million. Of those 50 million new people in America, Michigan’s net share of America’s grow was near zero. While maintaining population may not sound like a loss, we lost three Congressional representatives between 2000 and today. Not keeping up with national trends means losing.

What gives? Michiganders, either natives or transplants like me, know the immense advantages our state holds; tremendous and diverse natural beauty, warm and down-to-earth people, consequential history, strong business leadership, and more.

It’s Time to Get Serious, Michigan

Gov. Whitmer announced at the Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference in May the formation of the Grow Michigan Together Council and appointed 20 diverse leaders from across Michigan – including chairs Ambassador John Rakolta Jr. and Wayne State University Governor Shirley Stancato –to provide serious recommendations focused on what it will take to grow Michigan’s population, which will lead to better economic opportunity for all.

As of this writing, the Council is hard at work and no recommendations have been made public, but as a member of the Council, I believe the following are some keys to reversing Michigan’s negative trends:

Rebuild Michigan’s K-12 public education system.

Our education system was built at and for a time that no longer exists. The world is complex and change occurs at an ever accelerating pace. Our education system must be rethought to prepare our students for this complex and global world – with high academic standards for students, strong support for teachers, clear and world-class accountability standards, and clear pathways for all students to successfully enter and complete either a college or skilled trade program.

Recognize that a 12th grade education alone is no longer sufficient.

While fixing our K-12 system is the first priority, we must recognize that 12 years of education is no longer sufficient. Just like America moved from a seven-year standard after World War II to a 12-year standard, we must realize that a revitalized K-12 system is not enough. For the vast majority of persons, they will need more education beyond high school – and we have to figure out a way, like we did after WWII – to meet this public need.

Develop an even more robust economic development strategy –and stick with it. Michigan is known for the “Michigan U”. Unfortunately, this term applies equally to our suburban traffic patterns as it does our policy approaches. We change strategies far too often. States with successful economic development approaches have a clear strategy and that approach stays consistent regardless of changes in the governor’s office or legislature.

Empower localities and regions to develop a sense of ‘place’ that is attractive to young professionals.

Michigan communities are largely geared toward older persons –not surprising given how our population base is skewing older. We need to be more attractive to young professionals pursuing careers in the world of high technology. Look at where these young people are flocking to and see how our communities stack up.

We need to embrace the ‘Power of &’.

The “Power of &” was not just a catchy theme for the 2023 Mackinac Policy Conference, it’s how we need to tackle our future. For example, too many are making a false choice between leveraging and building off our automotive technology assets and building our entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The “Power of &” also recognizes no one perspective of political approach has it right. If we are to succeed and reverse our population crisis, we will need to think anew, think differently, and think with the “Power of &”.