How Do We Grow?

A couple of recent news articles struck me as representing where the Michigan is now and how we might turn it around. The first is from Brian O’Connor at the Detroit News on how Michigan is in for another decade of slow growth at best.

It quotes some of the best economists on the Michigan economy – including my colleague Don Grimes – on the likelihood that we will have fewer jobs a decade from now than we did in the Nineties. The reason, of course, is that factory jobs – which have been the core of Michigan’s economy for a century – are not coming back in large numbers. In the article Sophia Koropeckyj of projects that at most we will add 50,000 manufacturing jobs over the next several years. That compares to a loss of about 500,000 the last decade.

Its a hard lesson for Michigan to learn – and one we haven’t learned yet – but there is no path back to prosperity based on factory jobs. That’s reality even if the alternative energy industry – the new hope for a factory-based economy – is centered here. The new reality is that what made us prosperous in the past, won’t in the future.

So if factory work isn’t the path to prosperity what might be? That is where the second article comes in. Its from Toby Barlow at the New York Times. What initially caught my attention is that it is a positive story about the city of Detroit. How often does that happen in the national media?

The story is about a young foreign born entrepreneur opening a creperie in the city. And how he has drawn support from other food entrepreneurs in the city. Obviously, the Michigan economy is not going to boom on the opening of a few new restaurants. But what is the most likely path back to prosperity will be built on the entrepreneurial drive of talented people from anywhere on the planet who choose to live and work here.

And because young talent – across the country – is increasingly concentrating in central cities, having a vibrant Detroit matters to us all. The article is encouraging, because without a lot of fanfare, there is some progress (as Matthew also wrote about in a recent blog) in creating a Detroit that is attractive to young talent.

If we can retain and attract a large enough pool of increasingly mobile talent they will create new enterprises in all industries. Some of them will be local service businesses – like eateries – but other will be export based. Its those new enterprises that will help build the new growing Michigan economy. Its why at Michigan Future we have come to believe that retaining and attracting talent should be at the core of  our economic growth strategy.

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Lou Glazer

Lou Glazer is President and co-founder of Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future’s mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. Its work is funded by Michigan foundations.