Growing Michigan's Economy Today for a
Better Michigan Tomorrow
Our state is struggling with double digit unemployment. We are at the epicenter of the worst American economy since the Great Depression. Many are struggling to meet mortgage payments and foreclosures are dragging down families and neighborhoods.
Although the causes of our current situation are many: the recent bubbles bursting in housing and finance, and the three-decade-long decline of the auto industry; it would seem that our current strategies for economic development aren’t working. We need to get back to the fundamentals of a good economy.
When I talk to business leaders and entrepreneurs, http://www.annarborregionsuccess.org, I find that they’re interested in the same things that attract anybody to a community: good schools, good infrastructure and safe, vibrant communities.
First and foremost, improving our economy is rooted in improving our educational system. High-quality education and a talented labor pool are the most important factors for attracting and retaining employers. Indeed, the single most powerful tool for economic development in the state of Michigan is right here in Ann Arbor: the University of Michigan. Unfortunately, funding for our schools and Universities is stagnant or falling, forestalling broader economic growth and the individual achievement required for successful communities. Our state needs a concerted plan to invest in our human capital – the most fundamental aspect of economic success.
In addition, our state has neglected the physical infrastructure that supports economic success. Our roads are absolutely horrible and our transit infrastructure is even worse. One of our key problems is that we have simply too many roads to maintain, re-surface, and plow. Michigan should adopt a strict “fix-it-first” policy that directs all of the gas tax revenue to existing road infrastructure. Our furious building and borrowing spree, meant to spur more growth further from jobs, was a colossal mistake and we need to re-focus our resources on improving critical corridors. We need to stop building new infrastructure while our older investments are abandoned. Michigan has harsh weather for pavement and we simply cannot afford to sustain the current, sprawling and inefficient policy.
Also, Michigan’s economy could benefit greatly from renewed investment in transit. One hundred years ago, we had inter-urbans connecting Ann Arbor with Ypslanti and Detroiti. As a County Commissioner, I have been working to bring commuter service back between Ann Arbor and Detroit through a project led by SEMCOG. Limited service is expected to start in October of this year, but much more is needed. The I-94 corridor connects our state’s major job and cultural centers beautifully and provides service to Metro Airport. Building this first leg of a regional transit network will connect people, places and ideas, opening up business and employment opportunities for many residents. In addition, better public transport improves public safety and supports the cultural attractions that make for vibrant downtowns. The State of Michigan needs to support this project financially and our legislature should be investing in a broader, regional system that will open up opportunities for all of southeast Michigan.
Of course, taxes are always a consideration and my experience in local government tells me that we could be using tax dollars more efficiently in a host of areas. For instance, we have far too much duplication of services in our schools, and in our local and state governments. We need to make government more efficient by incentivizing government to consolidate services such as administration, information technology, finance, and facilities maintenance. Washtenaw County has been a leader in this because we know it saves taxpayer money and we have good relationships with cities and townships. Nonetheless, the state could take greater leadership on this matter by tying some portion of state support to meaningful collaborations. Taxes well spent on needed services can lead to greater economic vitality. Taxes spent on duplicative and unnecessary functions are a drain on our economy.
Finally, we all make a difference in our local economy every day. Each dollar we spend is like a vote and when we buy locally [http://www.thinklocalfirst.org] it’s like voting for Ann Arbor to be more economically vibrant. The state can also buy local by supporting local food and Michigan farmers. Michigan should be aggressively building bridges between farmers and food stamp recipients and by purchasing Michigan food when supplying prisons, schools and state offices.
Here are some specific things that State government can do to make our communities more prosperous: