Students, especially graduating seniors, may have some reason to be optimistic about their ability to secure a job — unless they want to stay in Michigan. As reported last week, the number of job opportunities for college graduates throughout the nation are increasing. Conversely, the state of Michigan is experiencing a decrease in employment levels. In December, the state’s unemployment rate reached 7.3 percent, towering over the national average of 5.4 percent. Over the past few years, Michigan has consistently ranked among the top states with the highest unemployment percentages. In order to revitalize the state’s economy and create jobs, it will be necessary to raise the number of educated workers within the state by reversing the flow of college graduates out of the state and by increasing funding for all levels of education.

At the source of the state’s economic woes is its reliance on manufacturing — a sector that does not generally attract college graduates and has been in steady decline because of the pressures of global competition. Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the state Legislature have undertaken a number of measures to develop an alternative professional economy throughout the state — centering on the need to improve the urban environments of the state.

Over the summer, Granholm announced the first wave of cities selected for the Cool Cities Initiative, a plan to renovate various urban areas across the state. The initiative grants roughly $100,000 to each of the 17 cities selected. This urban renovation focuses on the theory that an educated workforce with money to spend will be attracted to areas of cultural richness and diversity, with entertainment opportunities, family events and an aesthetically pleasing landscape. To be effective, however, the Cool Cities Initiative must be given greater resources. A mere $100,000 is not enough for any significant change.

Detroit, the focal city of the extensive renovation plan, received three grants with plans to restructure various buildings, open food and retail outlets and create usable space for vendors. In addition to renovating urban areas, organized events aim at attracting crowds to Detroit. The recent North American International Auto Show drew visitors to the region, and this week Detroit will boast the Motown Winter Blast. Events range from ice sculpting to dog sledding, a food festival, and jazz performances. The Winter Blast precedes the largest festivity to land in Detroit — the 2006 Super Bowl. These events are crucial to creating a positive image for Michigan and drawing young, educated workers to the state.

Certainly, the Cool Cities Initiative should be applauded and expanded. However, more measures can be taken to transform the state’s economy. The state’s economic woes are rooted in the lack of educated workers — Michigan ranks 39 out of 50 in the percentage of working adults who have a college degree. Despite the value education holds in transforming an economy’s workforce into a highly competitive, productive, diverse and talented force, Granholm and legislators, faced with mounting budget deficits, decided to cut funding for post-secondary education.

The unemployment plague in Michigan can be combated with increased funding for all levels of education throughout the state. Urban and cultural development are valuable methods to attract and retain a young, college-educated workforce. The solution to economic transformation and success for the state, however, should also include a continued commitment to improving the quality of education.

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