No Talent, Jobs Go Elsewhere

About a month ago I received an e mail with the title “Why our growing firm may have to leave Michigan” (you can and should read it here). I assumed that it would be about taxes and/or business costs are too high. Boy was I wrong! It is from a law firm that cannot fill available high paid jobs because no one wants to live in metro Detroit. It is simply the best statement of our case that talent is driving the economy and that place matters that I have seen.

Before the Great Recession I heard this same story over and over again from knowledge-based employers across the state. This is the first time one of them has put it in writing. Of course, the conventional wisdom still is this cannot happen. People go to where the jobs are. Fix the cost of doing business in Michigan and jobs will blossom, talent will rush here and we will be prosperous again. As Mr. Basile writes that ain’t the way the world works today.

He writes: We’d like to stay in Michigan, but we have a problem.  It’s not taxes or regulations.  There’s lots of talk about these issues but they have no impact on our business.  We spend more on copiers and toner than we do on state taxes. Our problem is access to talent.  We have high-paying positions open for patent attorneys in the software and semiconductor space.  Even though it is one of the best hiring environments for IP firms in 40 years, we cannot fill these positions.  Most qualified candidates live out of state and simply will not move here, even though they are willing to relocate to other cities. There’s a simple reason why many people don’t want to live here: it’s an unpleasant place because most of it is visually unattractive and because it is lacking in quality living options other than tract suburbia.   Some might call this poor “quality of life.”   A better term might be poor “quality of place.”   In Metro Detroit, we have built a very bad physical place.   We don’t have charming, vibrant cities and we don’t have open space.

Quality of place matters. We need to keep pushing to get this at the top of the state’s economic growth agenda.

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