Michigan is making a ‘comeback’

Carly Simpson

The ‘comeback state’ was the theme of Gov. Rick Snyder’s fourth State of the State address on Jan. 16. He started his speech reflecting on the years before he took office, calling Michigan broken.

“We led the country in joblessness, reduced income levels and loss of population,” Snyder said.

In his dashboard review, which has been a common element in his other State of the State addresses, Snyder then noted that 221,000 private sector jobs were created, Michigan is No. 1 in adding manufacturing jobs, and, for the first time since 2006, the labor force is growing.

“Michigan has shown amazing improvement over the last few years,” said Grand Valley State University economics professor Paul Isley. “We’re not completely out of the woods, but in places like Grand Rapids we’re at our close to all time high for employment.”

The main reason for Michigan’s comeback is the automobile industry, Isley said. Since 2009, automotive production has doubled in Michigan, and the state is at its highest level of production since 2005, said Snyder, calling the industry critical for success.

However, Michigan’s future cannot rely on the growth and success of one industry, Isley said.

“The automobile industry is leading us out of the recession,” he said. “The improvements have been on that one dimension. We need to move beyond that and figure out how to make Michigan more inviting to other industries.”

Isley said that fixing Michigan has to include fixing Detroit.

“The albatross on Michigan’s neck is Detroit’s bankruptcy, which (Snyder) didn’t really address,” he said. “It’s important to bring this issue to closure. When the rest of the country looks at Michigan, they think of Detroit, and when they view Detroit as a sick city then it has consequences for other cities like Grand Rapids. It’s bad for the state.”

Snyder received a lot of applause when he announced that the $1.4 billion budget deficit from his first term in office has been turned into $917 million in extra revenue. He didn’t say where the money will be spent but mentioned that, “there’s an opportunity for some tax relief.”

“There are lots of places the money should be used like a rainy day fund,” Isley said. “We need to explore the options, but higher education needs to be part of the discussion because we are falling behind other states.”

Though Snyder spoke of advances made in pre-school education and grades K-12, higher education was not addressed.

“I do not believe it is an indication of a devaluing of higher education on his part,” said Cynthia McCurren, a professor of nursing at GVSU.

During Snyder’s first year in office there was a 15 percent cut to higher education funding.

“Michigan has generally been below the national average for things like higher education because people could go into manufacturing industries like automobiles,” Isley said. “Many of those paths no longer exist and many are now structurally unemployed.”

Isley said Michigan doesn’t just need strong colleges, it needs strong community colleges and trade schools, as well. A vast majority of venture capital lands within 20 miles of a college campus, in large part because of the human capital coming out of those areas, he said. Michigan has to build a strong workforce in order to capitalize on those opportunities.

“The talent businesses want might not be here right now,” Isley said. “A lot of businesses have found that to be a constraint because they can’t get the specific skill sets they need.”