This article is part of the Daily’s ongoing coverage of the Mackinac Policy Conference. Follow staff reporter Kevin Biglin on Twitter and check the site for more updates.
In his keynote address Thursday afternoon at the Mackinac Policy Conference, Gov. Rick Snyder provided an overview of the three conference pillars: restoring civility in U.S. political discourse, promoting economic opportunity and leading the way in connected mobility.
“They’re (the pillars), not separate things,” Snyder said. “We’ve talked about winning through civility, the need to connect technology and the need for improved economic opportunity.”
He spent most of his speech on the topic of promoting economic opportunities available in the state, such as skilled labor. He said in today’s market, everyone must have some kind of degree or skill above a high school diploma in order to get a job.
“Having that high school diploma isn’t the answer anymore,” Snyder said. “We need to think more broadly. It’s how to get that credential to show that we’re now competent in some field.”
Snyder said filling a surplus of 100,000 jobs in the state begins with providing information on where the jobs are and how to get them, as well as determining the requirements or training they will entail.
“The question is no longer, is there a job?” Snyder said. “We’ve got over 100,000 unfilled jobs in Michigan that are good, well-paying jobs. The question is, how do you get the skills to take that role? We should be helping parents and young people understand where those opportunities are.”
Another area the governor believes can lead to growth is experiential learning. He believes topics such as mathematics can be taught better in environments such as carpentry and welding classes, where hands-on skills can be applied.
“The nature of education is changing,” Snyder said. “It’s not just about the textbooks. We haven’t lowered our standards and we shouldn’t. We integrate those skillsets in those classes now. We need to close that gap to make people career-connected for economic opportunity. Let’s accelerate.”
So far, according to Snyder, the state has been successful in providing jobs for veterans, returning citizens in correctional facilities and peoples with disabilities. He thanked Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence (D–Mich.) for help with promoting skilled-labor opportunities, as well as Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and the Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein for their Hidden Talent Tours — a program to enhance Michigan businesses by hiring people with disabilities.
“They’ve earned it,” Snyder said. “They’ve put their lives on the line to protect us. We’re helping returning citizens have an opportunity to get skilled trades and get job offers while they’re still in a correctional institution. We’re helping people with economic disadvantages.”
Snyder also shed light on the decreasing civility in politics today and said it is one of the greatest risks to democracy in the United States. He said the best way to restore civility and promote understanding is to promote economic opportunities in both urban and rural areas of the state.
“You cannot maintain the status as a great country if you can’t be civil to one another,” Snyder said. “That’s just common sense. So you find an amplification that’s not necessarily based on facts. There are angry people. And why are they angry? If people lose hope, what are you left with? A lot of people haven’t lost hope, but they believe they’ve lost opportunity.”
As for the third pillar, Snyder said connected mobility, such as broadband connectivity, is needed to connect people all across the state and especially in rural areas to be productive. He added if people are going to make a living and work outside the city, they need broadband.
“Mobility is this huge opportunity that we can deliver on,” Snyder said. “It’s about broadband. It’s a way to bring back our rural areas. People went to cities originally for economic opportunities because they had to — people work in concentrations. Broadband, internet, connectivity makes that no longer required. We can bring back many parts of our state that have been in decline for decades… because you can work there.”
Snyder concluded by urging the audience to be more daring and to take the three pillars into their everyday lives.
“That’s back to civility,” Snyder said. “It’s not something I’m going to decide. Hopefully you see I’m absolutely passionate about these topics. I love this stuff. I’m to my core focused doing it until December 31, 2018, to make it happen for every Michigander. But it’s not just me. Are you ready to sign up to change the questions we’ve been asking? Let’s start asking these new, smart questions, and then let’s get them done. And that’s a theme you’ve heard this whole conference.”