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What Will Make Michigan No. 1? Statewide Leaders Say Talent, Infrastructure, Investment

By Kevin Bull

Michigan’s challenge for the future is getting students into the workforce. The bedrock of economic development is a prospering workforce, talent, infrastructure, and quality of life.

Workforce and education experts stressed that building on momentum instead of resetting after elections is key during a panel discussion titled “Is Michigan Prepared? Challenges and Opportunities for Future Growth” moderated by Rick Albin of WOOD TV.

“We are not going to move forward unless there is deep buy-in across our entire state from the business community, parents and educators,” said Tonya Allen, president and CEO of The Skillman Foundation. “They must feel like their voices are heard. If we can get that buy-in, then I think we can figure out what we need to do.”

Allen cited the 70-20-10 equation, a school of thought that 70 percent of issues being discussed can find agreement from both sides, 20 percent can be negotiated, and 10 percent will never be agreed on by both sides.

“The challenge we have in our state is we start with 10 percent and never move forward,” Allen said. “I say let’s start with the 70 percent and see if we can make our way there.”

Allen was joined by Birgit Klohs, president and CEO of the Right Place Inc.; Patti Poppe, president and CEO of Consumers Energy and CMS Energy; and Suzanne Shank, chairwoman and CEO of Siebert Cisneros Shank & Co. LLC.

Panelists agreed that while infrastructure and education are critical areas to focus on, progress will not happen unless there is an overall mindset change on talent.

“What we all have to accept and shift in our minds is to give the electrician who comes and wires your home the same respect you do for somebody with a college education,” Klohs said. “Because it takes that electrician just as long to become a certified electrician as it takes somebody to get a philosophy degree.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Michigan focuses too much on preparing kids for standardized testing rather than developing social skills to be successful in work. The state needs students to be able to collaborate, think critically, and creatively innovate.
  • Thirty years ago, Michigan ranked No. 1 in education attainment. Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama ranked 48 and 50, respectively. Michigan now ranks 36th according to U.S. News and World Report.
  • Diversity is where you count people. Inclusion is where people count.
  • A regional transit system is important to young people and seniors. It is one of the biggest reasons Seattle has seen growth, while Detroit is still recovering from economic recession.
  • The American Society of Civil Engineering graded Michigan a “D+” in its 2018 infrastructure report card.
  • Infrastructure funding should not be thought of solely as fixing and repairing but also in terms of competitiveness. Michigan is at the forefront of autonomous vehicle development but does not have the roads or broadband internet across the state to support widespread rollout.