With the Super Bowl less than two weeks away, Detroit’s boosters have been hoping to shed the Motor City’s image as a faded industrial city. The Ford Motor Company isn’t helping, with its announcement of job cuts that will leave more than 25,000 Ford employees spending Super Bowl Sunday wondering how they will support their families. Though only one of the plants slated to close is in Michigan – located down I-96 in Wixom – the cuts add to an already lengthy list of economic troubles in Michigan. The state government, from Gov. Jennifer Granholm on down, has work to do – both to help these workers and to turn around the stale economy that has claimed their jobs.
Ford may have had no choice but to cut jobs due to tanking sales and its failure to compete with Japanese counterparts in North America. Regardless, the inevitability of these closings will not lessen the impact on individuals, families and communities. Residents will move away to find work, and the local economy will be crippled. The loss of the plant will have wide-ranging effects – local schools, for example, will see a loss in funding as pupils’ parents leave town. In other communities that have suffered plant closures, this has left schools financially strapped, unable to afford fixed costs that do not decline as rapidly as per-pupil funding.
Tonight at 7 p.m., Granholm will give her State of the State address – a crucial time to speak to Michigan residents about her plan to turn the economy around. The Ford cuts should signal to her that the past three years of legislative activity have not worked. The governor should focus her energy and her speech on figuring out how to respond to the state’s continual economic slump. Since her last speech a year ago, companies like Ford, General Motors and Delphi have announced plans to cut back their operations here.
Granholm seems to be stuck in limbo, trying to preserve manufacturing jobs while practically ignoring the need to compete for new technology sector jobs. For now, the governor needs to come up with a concrete plan for helping the workers now losing their manufacturing jobs. She needs to outline how Michigan is going to provide workers at plants like Ford’s Wixom factory with job retraining and with help finding work. At a time when jobs are scare and thousands more families will be struggling to pay bills, the state has a responsibility to address the immediate difficulties laid-off workers and their communities will face.
Her speech should tackle the need to diversify Michigan’s badly ailing economy. She should work with the Republican-controlled state legislature to help the state move past its industrial legacy to attract jobs in high-tech fields. Granholm’s goal of doubling the state’s number of college graduates has so far remained but an idea. This year, there needs to be action to build the better-educated work force Michigan will need to compete in the 21st century.
Today’s State of the State address will likely be the unofficial start of her campaign for re-election this fall. Michigan’s loss of industrial jobs, its low percentage of college graduates and its inability to attract new business investment should send a red flag to Granholm. After all, hopes for her political future may only be as bright as the state’s economic future. Her speech tonight is the perfect place to start resurrecting this state’s once-great economic power.