Travelled to Manhattan over the Thanksgiving holiday. Wow! I’m always amazed at its vibrancy and prosperity. And then I come back to Michigan and get reengaged in the public conversation about our economy. A greater disconnect is hard to imagine.
Here the dominant narrative about the economy is that everything that makes Manhattan a powerful engine of economic growth is what has or will ruin the Michigan economy. How we can continue to believe that narrative when it so obviously fails to explain what is occurring in the real world is beyond me. If that narrative were right Manhattan would be Detroit. Characterized by widespread abandonment by both non-poor households and businesses.
Manhattan is probably the highest cost place to do business in America. Not only high state and local taxes, but also high labor costs and, maybe most important, sky high real estate prices. In many ways it is the poster child for big government: big police and fire departments; big park system; public support for the arts; transit, transit, and more transit; one of the few cities with safety net programs over and above the state and federal safety net and on and on and on. Add to that lots of regulation, powerful public employee unions, lots of renters; sky high density; lots of immigrants, gays and folks of different races, religions and ethnicity and you have a recipe for what we are constantly told leads to economic disaster. Wrong!
Instead it is a place where knowledge-based businesses from across the planet are increasingly concentrating. It is one of America’s great centers of innovation and entrepreneurship. A place where the affluent (the 1%) and talent concentrate. It all adds up to one of the most successful economies in the country. So strong that it is the main engine of a metropolitan area of more than 22 million people (more than twice Michigan) in four states. A metropolitan area that is the third most prosperous big metro in the country, with a per capita income of more than $52,000. ($18,000 higher than Michigan’s.)
Turns out in the real world all those so-called liabilities are assets that lead to prosperity. A big city that works, a government that provides quality basic services and amenities, terrific alternatives to driving, density and welcoming to all. Combine those features with an entrepreneurial culture and you have a place where talent – from across the planet – wants to live and work. And where talent concentrates you get growth and prosperity, not decline and falling income and employment. To get back on the path to prosperity Michigan needs far more – not less – of what Manhattan has.