I used to walk to school when I was in elementary school. The older kids in the neighborhood would watch the younger kids and make sure we got there okay. My first couple of years, there was a group of girls in the neighborhood who filled that role. They also used to baby-sit for my brother and me on the weekends.
Since that time, they’ve all graduated from college and have started their first real jobs. They’re nice and smart, and they’ll add a lot to any community in which they decide to live. But from my perspective as someone who was born and raised in Michigan and has most of his family and friends in the state, there’s a problem: Almost all of those girls have left the state. They’ve taken their educations, their knowledge and their talents with them.
Many of Michigan’s young residents are doing the same. Why live in Michigan when you can move to Chicago, the East Coast or someplace with better weather? There’s not really much here for people who have just graduated from college. Detroit, the biggest city, is a mess; it has lost more people than any other major city in the country over the past two years. In the state in general, there’s not much of a nightlife, not much to do in general and most importantly, there’s not that many jobs.
It’s something that many policymakers say they are aware of, but not much of anything has happened. Enter Michigan’s bright, energetic, attractive and progressive new governor, Jennifer Granholm, who has spent time in vibrant areas such as San Francisco and Boston. She replaces an older, duller, seemingly more out-of-touch, conservative white male, John Engler. It seemed to me as if she understood Michigan’s brain drain crisis and how the state could not continue to rely on the auto industry. To me, she seemed like a national star in a world of second-rate state politicians.
Granholm recently gave a speech on Mackinac Island wearing sunglasses, where she discussed the importance of making Michigan a more “hip” state. The conservative businessmen who were in her audience ate it up. Maybe I would be able to stay put in my home state after all.
But thus far, Granholm has not backed up this talk with substance. A good example of this is her failure to appreciate the significance of the Michigan Life Sciences Corridor. The idea of the corridor is to combine the efforts of the state’s top universities and attract new private sector businesses in the field to create a vibrant region that would gain national prominence. Understanding the connection between Granholm’s stated desire to create a more “hip” state and the corridor’s aim of creating a more vibrant state does not take that much brainpower.
Last week, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan told Congressional committees that manufacturing will not be vital to the U.S. economy in the future. While this angered some members of Congress and may rightfully frighten workers in states such as union-heavy Michigan, it was a positive economic statement – it’s true. I’ve taken enough economics at the University to know that the integrating system known as globalization will add jobs to the U.S. economy, but they will not be in manufacturing. They will be in areas such as the life sciences. In order to maintain a healthy economy, it is important that new types of businesses be free to pop up, and that means that older industries such as the auto industry cannot be allowed to suffocate these saplings.
The state promised the corridor $50 million a year for 20 years. At first, it was delivering, but recently, the amount of funding has become so small that it is almost irrelevant.
The reason that the state of Michigan became such a powerful and exciting place in the first half of the 20th century is that it led in the sectors, such as automobile manufacturing, that were cutting-edge at the time, but they are no longer. The state needs a replacement, and the best option is to take this corridor and run with it. Granholm should listen to University President Mary Sue Coleman and pour money into the corridor, while working to attract new, innovative businesses. That, not wearing sunglasses on an island that still hasn’t experienced the auto boom, is how to start revitalizing Michigan.
Pesick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.