A report recently provided to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has added fuel to the narrative that talent will be the primary factor in the state’s ability to survive and thrive economically in the years ahead. The report, Building Michigan’s 21st Century Economy, reflects growing consensus voiced by stakeholders throughout Michigan that talent development is the state’s most important policy prescription when it comes to ensuring rising incomes for all Michiganders and an economically secure future. The 21st Century Economy Commission report followed in the steps of two other gubernatorially-commissioned reports on Michigan’s education and infrastructure systems.
Talent as the Defining Attribute of Competitive Economies
Talent—the ability for the state’s residents to apply high-level skills, abilities and knowledge in careers through the acquisition of postsecondary degrees, credentials and workplace training—will be the defining attribute by which state economies will compete in an increasingly competitive, globally-linked and automated economy. In addition to building the state’s human talent capacity, the report identifies infrastructure, business climate, and quality of life as paths through which Michigan must travel in order to sustain an economy that fosters prosperity for all.
So Goes Talent, So Goes Michigan
In the opening letter of the report, Sandy K. Baruah, Chair of the 21st Century Economy Commission, and President and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, writes “Michigan will not succeed in the 21st century global marketplace unless we are able to attract more highly educated persons and enhance the education levels of existing residents to meet the skill demands of the future.” Michigan ranks 34th in the nation for per-capita bachelor’s degree attainment. The state’s decline in education levels has, not surprisingly, been matched by a decline in per-capita earnings, which now also ranks 34th. Unless educational attainment levels are increased, Michigan will face continued economic decline. The commission’s recommendations for increasing Michigan’s educational attainment levels—growing the size and talent of the state’s talent pool—include: ensuring that all Michiganders have a path to advancing their education levels, increasing the attainment of 21st century skills, and growing the population by attracting and retaining talent from throughout the U.S. and abroad.
A Different Approach to Public Investment in Michigan’s Future
In the report, Commission chair Sandy Baruah declares, “To accomplish this [the report’s recommendations], Michigan will need to take a different approach to investment in public goods—‘the commons’—than we have for the last generation.” As it involves all three of the Governor’s commission reports, Mr. Baruah’s observation may be the most important take away: greater investment in building the state’s talent capacity and in its public assets is a must if Michigan is to compete successfully in the future, both domestically and internationally.
Needed—Urgency and Endurance
Governor Snyder and legislative leaders should embrace the 21st Century Economy Commission report’s recommendations. And they should do so with a sense of urgency, given the sweeping impact on Michigan of globalization and automation. Much more important, however, is that the report’s guiding principles and recommendations serve as a blueprint that transcend future gubernatorial administrations and inform policy discussions across the entire political spectrum. There are only 18 months left in the Snyder Administration, and only so much can be ushered through a legislative agenda. State political leaders, with a hefty assist from Michigan’s business, education and nonprofit sectors, must work in unison to parlay the report’s recommendations into actionable, concrete steps: policies, programs and investments that will lead to increased educational opportunities for all Michiganders, and in turn, ensure that the state not only survives, but actually thrives, in the decades ahead.
Michigan’s public universities, as major economic, research and intellectual assets, work every single day on the quest to ensure that the state has the talent capacity needed to be an economically competitive and attractive destination the world over in the coming years. These institutions look forward to serving as enthusiastic partners in helping the 21st Century Economy Commission report’s recommendations become a reality.
Daniel J. Hurley is the Chief Executive Officer at the Michigan Association of State Universities