When Rick Snyder became Michigan’s governor nearly eight years ago, he made clear he put more faith in nurturing existing businesses in the state than chasing after out-of-state companies with tax breaks.
He and his aides called it “economic gardening.” And as if to demonstrate he was serious, Snyder killed the state’s lucrative movie incentives in a signature move to show he wasn’t picking winners and losers.
But as Snyder’s second terms draws toward its close, the state has been sending mixed signals. It recently offered billions of dollars in tax breaks to both Amazon and Foxconn in a failed attempt to lure them to Michigan.
And Snyder signed the transformational brownfield legislation that raises the incentives game to new heights for deals like the Hudson’s site project in downtown Detroit.
So at the annual Mackinac Policy Conference on Thursday, I asked Snyder how he balanced chasing the big-ticket outsiders like Amazon with quieter in-state programs like the Vocational Village plan he announced Thursday to train prison inmates for future employment upon release.
“I’ve always put economic gardening ahead of business attraction, as you should,” Snyder said at the Grand Hotel where the policy conference is being held.
“This is a Business 101 question,” he continued. “You always want to take care of your current customers first because they’re there and you already have a relationship. And one of the best ways to get future customers to come visit you or join your state is to have happy customers.”
Fair enough. But the state continues to pursue the outsiders, too, if often in more modest ways than the gargantuan deals offered like the $4 billion thrown at Amazon and a bit less at Foxconn.
Also Thursday, Roger Curtis, Snyder’s director of Talent and Economic Development, announced a new ChooseMichigan program, the aim being to attract recent college graduates from three Midwest cities — Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Madison, Wis. — to come to Michigan.
The program will use social media and a new website — ChooseMichigan.org — to alert promising grads in technical fields about job opportunities in Michigan.
“Talent clearly is a huge issue,” Curtis said in announcing the program, which will cost $2.5 million through 2020, the money part of Snyder’s Marshall Plan for Talent effort to get more people the skills they need to fill job openings.
“Talent is the new currency in economic development and every state is competing,” he added.
The question of who deserves Michigan’s attention — outside corporations like Amazon or in-state residents who need to develop their skills — is best answered with “All of the above.”
Snyder and his team have been saying for months now that Michigan will have something like 800,000 job openings in coming years and not anywhere near enough skilled workers to fill them. We can quibble about the specific estimate, but not with the general trend.
Indeed, other speakers at this week’s policy conference doubled down on that, saying not only does Michigan have a skills gap today, with many industries from manufacturing to construction showing shortages of workers. But nobody can predict what skills will be needed 10 or 15 years from now as the labor market evolves in unpredictable ways.
So attracting outsiders, Curtis said, is necessary because Michigan’s population isn’t growing fast enough to produce all the workers needed to fill all those job openings.
And both attracting more companies here and helping home-grown firms and workers are needed in a state still recovering from Michigan’s many years of decline.
Contact John Gallagher: 313-222-5173 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jgallagherfreep.
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