Time for strategic action
Creative thinking and working together key to Michigan’s economic future
This column originally published in Bridge, September 1, 2017.
There’s no secret to economic development success.
Today, we must renew our commitment to a long-term vision to build an economy that serves all Michigan residents, while remaining mindful of opportunities as they arise.
In the intense competition to attract businesses, those of us in economic development often ask: How can we strengthen our partnerships and collaborations to build a bridge to a prosperous economic future for all Michigan residents?
In the last several years, the focus rightly has been on the Michigan Comeback. Since 2011, the state has had sustained economic growth that has created a business-friendly environment. Distinctive features of the state’s economy include lower taxes, less burdensome regulations, fiscal accountability and a bolstered automotive industry that is the preeminent global capital for research and development, innovation and autonomous-vehicle engineering.
Michigan has moved beyond the comeback of pre-Recession economic levels and is positioned for long-term sustainable growth. Clearly, after the great increase in private-sector job growth in the state over the past six years, now is not the time to be complacent. Success in the ever-changing global economy requires an uncanny sense of doing what it takes to stay competitive.
Taking a leading role in the mobility transportation revolution with the advent of PlanetM and helping establish the American Center for Mobility – the first testing and validation site for autonomous vehicles at the historic Willow Run facility – reflects the foresight of Michigan-based automotive industry along with civic and economic-development leaders who understand the arc of economic history and future of transportation.
Indeed, positioning Michigan to compete successfully on a global scale is an ongoing challenge and requires an awareness of economic trends, emerging industries, a consideration of the state’s economic strengths and an openness to policy changes that further improve Michigan’s competitiveness as a state with world-class physical assets and the “human capital”—or talent – that is attractive to all types of businesses.
In the past few months, the passage of the transformational brownfield (a.k.a. MiThrives legislation) and Good Jobs packages are two prime examples (among many) of how Michigan is creating a broader range of economic development tools to help build a sustainable economy.
In response to the incentives outlined in the new transformational brownfield statute, real-estate developers are considering how they can finance large, mixed-used projects on dilapidated sites through the use of sales and income tax capture. Some of these projects under consideration are “community eyesores” and the type of project that, when renovated or rebuilt, will serve as symbols of renewal.
Economic developers across the state now have a new type of incentive and will no longer lose an opportunity because of a lack of “big-project incentive.” Good Jobs for Michigan, which won support in the legislature, business community, unions and economic developers, creates additional new tools to allow economic developers to “close the deal,” and support large-scale projects. These incentives are performance-based and will be reviewed, validated, transparent, audited and verified every year.
In partnership with local and regional economic development organizations, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation has been a catalyst in supporting nearly $6.3 billion in private investment in facilities, machinery and technology while creating 34,000 jobs in the current fiscal year. Developments include Amazon building fulfillment centers in Romulus and Livonia, major investments by Ford Motor Co., General Motors and FCA, along with a major boost for the state’s agribusiness with presence of Clemens Food Group in Coldwater and expansion of Zeeland Farm Services in Ithaca, the state’s largest soybean processor.
One of the most impressive programs in fostering growth among all businesses is Pure Michigan Business Connect, a tool that facilitates networking among local and global purchasers to suppliers of Michigan goods and services.
Since its inception in 2011, PMBC has generated more than $5 billion in revenue for Michigan businesses. Participating in PMBC is the main reason 2K Tool of Wyoming expanded from a two-person shop into a 20-employee operation, and OpTech of Troy attracted Fortune 500 clients to its technology, finance and accounting services.
While sustaining a pro-growth environment for Michigan’s bedrock corporations and strengthening the competitiveness of medium- and small-business form the engine of the state’s economy, building vibrant communities is at the heart of the state’s strategy to further create engaging places to live, work and play.
Through the administration of Community Development Block Grants, and the Michigan Community Revitalization Program (MCRP), communities throughout Michigan are redefining the economic possibilities of business districts. And, to make sure communities are prepared for development, the MEDC has created the Redevelopment Ready Communities program.
For the past five years, MCRP has been a catalyst in developing and remaking communities’ main streets and business districts across the state, from Marquette to Monroe. And, few other programs reflect grassroots support as much as Public Spaces Community Places, an initiative that draws on social media as a catalyst in raising funds for community projects, ranging from bike trails to boardwalks, community centers to farmers' markets.
In the final analysis, there’s no secret to economic development success. The road ahead will be filled with challenges and unknowns. Having a clear vision of Michigan’s economic strengths and a flexible, collaborative – and yes, creative -- approach to attracting business is the key to being prepared for the exciting, ever-changing days ahead.
Jeff Mason is CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. He assumed his new role in July.