From the Daily: Building a new economy


Published July 25, 2010

Forget Silicon Valley — Michigan is poised to become the powerhouse peninsulas of high-tech innovation and manufacturing. According to a recent report by Anderson Economic Group, Michigan experienced impressive growth from 2003-2007 in the advanced manufacturing sector. But while this growth is indeed encouraging, the state’s development as a high-tech hub is being stifled by Lansing’s misguided funding priorities and poor economic management. In order to place the state back on the path to prosperity, lawmakers should enact policies that will encourage high-tech companies to lay down roots in Michigan.

Commissioned by the University Research Corridor — a partnership between the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University — AEG’s report found that almost 400,000 Michigan residents are employed by approximately 11,000 advanced manufacturing companies. Moreover, from 2003 to 2007, the most recent data available, wages in this industry grew by 12 percent to become $23,000 higher than workers in other fields.

Michigan’s lesson from its long-standing economic decline is clear: The state desperately needs a more diversified economy. Michigan can’t thrive when its fortunes are inexorably tied to the success of the auto industry, the heyday of which ended decades ago. The best hope for the state’s prosperity is a diverse and modern economy based on the ability to think and innovate. That means that Michigan can’t just make things; it needs to be the nucleus for the nation’s development of better things.

And the University Research Corridor is an essential resource driving the state along that path. Michigan’s public universities are producing a skilled labor force, planting the seeds of innovation among the next generation of job-creating entrepreneurs. The advanced manufacturing growth Michigan has seen is a tangible result of university research, not to mention another reminder to the legislature of the importance of its underfunded universities.

Yet the recent growth should also remind those in Lansing that Michigan is in an unrivaled position to take the lead in commercializing new technologies. Complementing its strong universities, the state has a large pool of currently unemployed laborers trained for the manufacturing sector along with wide swaths of unused factories and warehouses. But the state government needs to actively connect these resources with nascent industries. Funding should be restored to the No Worker Left Behind program so that workers can be retrained to meet the needs of these growing companies. Tax incentives should be expanded to attract and keep innovative businesses in the state. And the state should invest far more in the URC, one of its most important tools for economic growth and the birthplace of the next generation of technologies.

Economic recovery won’t happen by cutting investment in its primary mechanisms for economic growth. Long-term, sustainable prosperity requires an equally long-term dedication to the people and organizations that energize Michigan’s economy. Only with such unwavering commitment can Michigan shake off the rust and prosper in a new century.