Snyder on talent

Governor Snyder’s special message on talent is quite remarkable. The fact that there was a special message – reserved for only the state’s top priorities – on talent is noteworthy in and of itself. Believe me talent never before has received this kind of high profile attention by a Michigan governor.

Highlights of the message include a continuation of the Governor’s insistence that Michigan be friendly to immigrants including a call for Congress to take action to make it far easier for foreign born college graduates to stay and work in the U.S. And a recognition that quality of place is an essential ingredient to concentrating talent here. That creating places where talent wants to live matters along with preparing talent.

But what makes the message extraordinary and possibly transformational is that the Governor writes: In the 20th century, the most valuable assets to job creators were financial and material capital. In a changing global economy, that is no longer the case. Today, talent has surpassed other resources as the driver of economic growth. Talk about a complete break with the past!

For decades state and local economic development has been based on a belief that providing incentives to financial and material capital is how you grew the economy. Hardly anyone debated whether there were any other options. In this message Governor Snyder asserts that not only is there another option, but that talent is now the preeminent driver of economic growth. This means that actions that concentrate human capital should be economic development priority #1. Preparing (the subject of most of the message’s proposals), retaining and attracting talent are the actions that matter most to whether Michigan has a strong, prosperous economy in the future.

Evidence that as the Governor writes today talent has surpassed other resources as the driver of economic growth comes from the strong and growing alignment of college attainment and state per capita income. Of the top 15 states in the proportion of adults with a four-year degree or more, 13 are also in the top 15 in per capita income. Michigan’s fundamental problem is that we are now 36th in college attainment. Unless we fix that we are going to be one of the country’s poorest states.

Dome Magazine published a column I wrote comparing the Indiana and Minnesota economies. Indiana is a state that is viewed as offering the most business friendly environment in the Great Lakes and because of that has been held out for decades as a state Michigan should model. In the Governor’s words it has pursued a strategy of being friendly to financial and material capital. Minnesota on the other hand is the Great Lakes state with the highest proportion of adults with a four-year degree or more.

Indiana, in the 2011 state rankings by the well-respected conservative Tax Foundation, is the highest ranked Great Lakes state on both overall state business climate (10th) and corporate tax index (21st). Minnesota is the worst-ranked Great Lakes state by the Tax Foundation — 43rd from the top on its overall state business climate index. And its ranking of 44th on the corporate tax index is only better in the Great Lakes than Michigan’s ranking of 48th. On the other hand, Minnesota is the Great Lakes state with the highest college attainment rate, Indiana the lowest.  So the two states offer a real world test of the Governor’s assertion that today talent trumps financial and material capital.

My Dome article details the economic performance of the two states on both employment and income metrics as well as both current levels and growth. The bottom line: on every metric of economic well being residents of Minnesota are doing far better than residents of Indiana. For most metrics Minnesota is not only the highest ranked in the Great Lakes but a national leader and Indiana is at the bottom in the Great Lakes and not much better nationally.

Governor Snyder is right: talent is the most important driver of economic growth. In an increasingly knowledge-based economy (the Governor’s Michigan 3.0) talent is the most valuable and scarcest asset. Increasingly employers will move to the places that provide them with the largest talent pools. Understanding that talent is the economic growth priority is a major step forward. We need now to act boldly on that understanding with a new agenda that concentrates talent in Michigan. It is what matters most to Michigan’s economic future.

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