Michigan Talent for Michigan Jobs
April 5, 2013
In a little over six weeks– sometime around the first or second week of May– colleges and universities throughout Michigan will graduate the class of 2013. Teachers, doctors, business professionals, social workers, engineers, computer scientists, artists, musicians, and many other professionals will take their hard-earned degrees and head off to commence a variety of post-graduate employment endeavors. Unfortunately, too many of those individuals will commence those jobs in other states. That stark reality is one of the biggest challenges facing Michigan today.
For almost a decade, Michigan has been forced to deal with the paralyzing effects of the ‘brain drain’– the large-scale emigration of an alarming number of our college graduates. Our top-notch universities are working hard to attract, teach, and graduate class after class of bright, talented workers– individuals who come from around the world to take advantage of the offerings that some of the best higher education institutions in the nation have to offer. A recent editorial from The President’s Council, State Universities of Michigan website cites a study performed by the Anderson Economic Group which found that three of our state’s universities (Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, and Wayne State University) graduated more than 31,000 students in 2011, more than half whose degrees were in high-tech, high-demand fields1. Despite the fact that these are exactly the types of graduates Michigan’s economy needs, way too many of these types of graduates regularly pack up and leave our state as soon as they earn their diplomas.
Lansing is a great example of a community that’s grappling with this issue. In a recent City Pulse article, Lou Glazer, President and Co-Founder of the non-partisan think tank Michigan Future, found that the percentage of college graduates living in the Lansing area is a mere 28 percent. This is in spite of mid-Michigan being home to a major research university, state government, two hospitals, and two law schools (among an array of other businesses and industries). Why, then, do so many of our newest professionals– who are up to date on the latest technologies, theories, research, and ideas–leave Michigan at the first opportunity to do so?
The answer to that question involves a number of factors.
To begin retaining talent, we must change the way we lay out the foundation of our communities, because we simply cannot convince graduates to stay here if we can’t provide them with attractive, practical amenities. Residents– especially recent college grads– want to live in communities that offer an exciting array of living options, including unique, mixed-used residential and business spaces, easy to access, diverse culture and entertainment offerings, and a variety of retail options. They want communities that are easy to navigate and friendly to all types of travelers (including public transit users, bikers, and walkers). We need to think seriously about embracing placemaking strategies that grow our communities into these types of rich, vibrant hubs of activity. This means being thoughtful and innovative in the ways our uses and activities, streets, buildings, and open spaces are located, designed, and managed to create appealing, interesting, comfortable, and meaningful places for residents and for visitors. Some communities in Michigan are already making excellent progress here; they’re drawing people in with their new and innovative thinking and events (think Scrapfest and Festival of the Sun/Moon in Lansing, ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, and plans for a new Detroit Red Wings arena and amenities in Detroit).
Naturally, adopting this type of approach to growing our communities requires a serious re-commitment to community investment from our local governments and from the state. We cannot build strong communities without putting dollars toward our transportation infrastructure (our roads, bridges, and non-motorized amenities), toward the public safety services that keeps our residents safe (our police and fire departments), and toward the vital human support services (healthcare, assistance for our vulnerable citizens, etc.) that continue to help so many residents recover from the Great Recession. One of the biggest barriers to attracting and retaining residents in recent years has been the uncertainty surrounding our local and state government’s ability to providing an appropriate level of funding for services to residents. This, of course, isn’t surprising; our state government has been slashing funding for these services left and right as a budget balancing strategy for some time now. It’s well past time for us to think outside the box about new, sustainable revenue strategies designed to support the growth, sustainability, and vibrancy of our local communities and state.
Finally, and perhaps most obviously, boosting our state’s talent retention involves making investments in education at all levels. This begins with committing to investment in our K-12 schools, where recent cuts to School Aid and shifting dollars from the School Aid fund to the general fund have stripped too many students of the resources they need to be successful. Broadly, we need to work harder to ensure that School Aid Fund revenue sources are stable and able to fully fund our post-Proposal A education structure over the long term. This means that we must recommit to restoring, maintaining, and improving our General Fund/General Purpose revenues and ensuring that any cuts impacting the School Aid Fund are offset by dedicated replacement revenue. That action is important to ensuring our schools have the funds necessary to cover increased costs of operation, including the cost of providing quality school facilities and supplies while serving the needs of our students. We also need to embrace changes to public education funding that equalize the collection and distribution of revenues and keep pace with inflation and the growth of fixed costs. One of my bills– House Bill 4183– proposes to do just that.
Building schools that our graduates are proud to send their children to is important, but so is committing to supporting our grads as they finish up their own degree programs. Cutting higher education (to the tune of 15 percent in recent years) sends the wrong message to our graduates– it suggests that we don’t support higher learning and that we don’t care about ensuring that they and their families have access to high-quality education at a reasonable and affordable price. Instead of reducing access to financial aid (which puts college out of reach for an alarming number of our students), we need to communicate that we value our graduates’ skills and demonstrate a financial interest in keeping them here. Maine, for example, has created a very successful program to retain grads called Opportunity Maine. That program offers tax credits to graduates who remain (and work) in the state after earning their degrees. A bill I recently introduced, House Bill 4182, proposes to do the same here in Michigan. That legislation would allow eligible individuals to claim an income tax credit equal to 50 percent of the amount of qualified student loan payments made during the tax year for which the credit is being claimed (up to 20% of the average yearly tuition for Michigan’s public universities). I’m very optimistic about HB 4182’s ability to do for Michigan what it has done for main: attract and retain new talent which, in turn, will bolster the state’s economy.
Study after study shows that these types of policies and funding strategies generate some pretty incredible returns for our communities and our state. It’s no secret that a talented, well-educated workforce acts as a powerful magnet for new investment, which means new businesses and new jobs for Michigan residents. That, in turn, will generate increased economic activity in our communities that will propel all of us forward in our recovery from recession.
I was thrilled to be named to the Michigan Competitiveness Committee in the House of Representatives earlier this year, where I think we can begin to talk in more depth about the ways we might retain talent in our state (some of which I’ve discussed here). Whatever happens in that committee and in the Legislature, it’s going to need to be a bi-partisan effort, because if we fail to attract and retain talent to our state, we’ll all continue to suffer the consequences.
As many people know, I came here from New York to attend school at the University of Michigan. I chose to stay in Michigan after graduating because my wife and I believe in our state’s tremendous potential and love its unique array of offerings. We’re proud to be raising our children here and when the time comes, I want my children to choose Michigan and share in that pride, too. That’s why I’m so committed to leading efforts to attract and retain the brightest and best to our state, because I truly believe they are the key to Michigan’s future.