The road to better investment in Michigan’s people

August 19, 2020
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Because of COVID-19, the economic road ahead is unclear – for all of us.

But there a few things we do know for sure. We know the individuals and families who call Michigan home are strong and resilient. We know we have the capacity to help deliver solutions to the challenges we’re facing.

And we know how to bounce back.

Even though the Great Recession crippled our economy, causing us to lose jobs, income and population at a rate that far exceeded the rest of the nation, we surged back quickly, thanks to data-driven strategies and solutions for growth. Part of that work was led by Business Leaders for Michigan, and now they’re helping to lead once more.

Earlier this year, Business Leaders for Michigan unveiled Michigan’s Road to Top Ten plan, a multi-faceted strategy for propelling our state into an even stronger economic future. When the plan was developed, it was engineered to bring Michigan even closer to its goal of being a Top Ten state for jobs, income, and economic growth.

Now the plan is not just a “nice to-do,” it’s a “must do” as we contemplate the specter of another very real recession post-COVID-19.

The first thing we must do, as part of any strategy for success, is ensure we continue to support and invest in the people of our state.

This plan suggests strong support for ensuring that every person in our state has access to a best-in-class education, is connected to career opportunities, and is ready to compete in today’s global economy.

To date, we have not delivered on our commitment to prepare Michigan’s students at a level that is commensurate with employers’ needs. While our fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math proficiency is improving, we still remain near the bottom when compared to the rest of the nation. Too many of our state’s graduates are not prepared for college or careers.

Worse still, educational attainment in Michigan is relatively low compared to other states. We currently rank 29th in the U.S. when it comes to the number of working-age adults with an associate’s degree or higher.

These results point to an economic future that will be unnecessarily limited. Employers in search of talent are drawn to places where it exists in abundance. If Michigan can’t deliver, our prosperity will be threatened as other states and nations win the battle for jobs.

Part of the challenge facing Michigan workers seeking higher education relates to post-secondary affordability and access. Here, again, the state has work to do—overall state budget support for Michigan’s public colleges and universities has been relatively flat in recent years, forcing these institutions to push costs onto enrollees. The state must change its approach to funding post-secondary education in order to support Michiganders’ ability to enhance their skills and become more attractive to job providers.

Of course, there are other ways to grow Michigan’s talent pipeline. A strong in-migration of skilled, educated talent also can help build a solid, successful workforce capable of sustaining our state’s growth.

To help support these efforts, the state can—and should—end discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and better aid individuals facing barriers to employment. We also must attract new skilled immigrants and facilitate their relocation transitions.

There are other academic barriers that must be toppled as well. Right now, too many Michigan students are not supported adequately from a state budget perspective. Current state law funds each child on a per-pupil basis without regard to the true cost of educating that child. Thus, students who need additional learning support are not resourced through a truly equitable statewide funding formula.

It’s time that changed. Through the partnership with Launch Michigan, Business Leaders for Michigan is working to ensure high-quality learning options and fair funding levels for each and every Michigan child. We consider these efforts part of a strong plan for putting our state back on the Road to Top Ten as quickly as possible.

Each step Michigan takes now, as we fight COVID-19’s grip on our state and reassess the economic landscape, will matter a great deal. The Michigan’s Road to Top Ten plan gives us a strong framework for moving forward and investing in our strongest asset—the people who make Michigan home.

Learn more about Michigan’s Road to Top Ten at