The industries that built Michigan are in decline, and they will not likely be the source of economic revitalization in the state. Michigan must transition to a diverse economy, attractive to new industries, where the application of knowledge by highly educated people—not mass-production manufacturing—drives growth and prosperity. Local units of government, including counties, school districts, cities, villages, and townships, are responsible for delivering the services that shape the business environment and quality of life in their jurisdictions. They have a significant role to play in building a state that is once again an area of prosperity and opportunity.
Unfortunately, Michigan’s local governments are struggling to provide basic services, let alone a level of services that inspires the confidence of investors and the loyalty of potentially transitory residents. Limiting local governments are (1) an organizational structure that narrows the decision-making scope and authority of local leaders and (2) a chronic decline in revenue. To overcome these challenges, officials often seek to either increase tax rates or cut service provision, neither of which is a sustainable solution. To transform shrinking communities into growing economies, state and local leaders need to adopt a regional perspective. Strong regional planning authorities should direct development activities for coordinated, not competitive growth. And local government should provide services at a multi-community level in order to eliminate redundant costs. Improving services through inter-local collaboration will improve the development environment, making whole regions more prosperous, relieving fiscal pressure, and allowing the level of service provision that residents and business owners expect.
This report identifies many ways in which the state can help local units of government develop regional identities and increase collaboration. Solutions include:
- Restructuring state government to better facilitate a regional approach to development by combining the local government–focused functions of several state agencies into a single Michigan Department of Regional Planning and Support
- Adopting a vision and goals for economic competitiveness so regional entities have a framework for coordinating their development plans
- Increasing consistency in the economic and community development process among local units of government
- Restructuring and expanding the role of regional governance entities
- Providing incentives for regional collaboration
- Providing incentives and assistance to increase collaboration among cities, villages, and townships on provision of capital-intensive services
- Providing incentives to encourage local governments to contract with a higher level of government to perform technical services
- Removing legal barriers to functional consolidation for the provision of services
This report challenges state leaders to take bold steps to support and empower local decision makers so they can lead Michigan toward a brighter future.