A Plan for Michigan’s Future

By on August 3rd, 2017

Tom Watkins
Tom Watkins

A Plan for Michigan’s Future

August 4, 2017 

Humans love to plan. And having plans for the future of our state is nothing new, of course. Even now, multiple “plans” are floating around – those from the far right, the far left and, of course, the middle-of-the-roaders.

Dire warnings are all about: Without a vision, people may perish. 

Plans for Michigan’s future will likely get even more play as the 2018 gubernatorial race heats up. With Governor Snyder term-limited, Democratic and Republican wannabe’s are circling the state, talking to the community and political activists, opinion leaders, labor, business and anyone willing to stand still long enough to hear their “plan”.

The issue is not a lack of plans, the problem lies in a lack of a shared vision and common agenda, along with a unifier – an idea that unites a majority of the people in the state to follow the plan.

The Business Leaders for Michigan talk about their plan this way: “Change is on the horizon. Our state’s economic future is waiting, if we can work together to make it happen.”  The Building of A New Michigan Plan  (http://businessleadersformichigan.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/New-Michigan-booklet-20161.pdf) offers a compelling roadmap for growth: “It’s not enough to dream, we have to start doing it! Our state’s tremendous assets—geographic, human and structural—are waiting to be properly leveraged. In this plan, we’ll identify coordinated strategies and clear opportunities for making Michigan a winner.”

Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization also has a vision. The plan to propel Michigan forward incudes, “a mission to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy.”

Their expressed goal is to be a catalyst for recreating a high-prosperity Michigan. Michigan has enjoyed, for most of the last century, a per capita income above the national average in both national expansions and contractions. We have now entirely lost this status. In 2015 we were eleven percent BELOW the national average in per capita income.

One basic conclusion: What most distinguishes successful areas in Michigan is their concentrations of talent; talent defined as a combination of knowledge, creativity, and entrepreneurship. In a flattening world where work is increasingly done or anywhere by anybody.

Places with the greatest concentrations of talent win. 

Clearly, Michigan Future understands that individuals, companies, cities, regions, states, and nations that invest in education and talent will win as the 21st unfolds.  (SEE: http://www.michiganfuture.org/

The Center for Michigan is a “think-and-do” tank founded by former newspaper publisher and University of Michigan Regent Phil Power in early 2006.  As a nonprofit organization, “The Center’s objective is to make Michigan a better place by encouraging greater understanding and involvement in policy issues among the state’s citizens and making sure their voices are regularly heard.”  They do this by regularly calling forth citizen views, amplifying those views and projecting them into the halls of power.

The Center’s work can be described in three verbs: Engage, Inform and Achieve. Together they work to create a dynamic model of social and political change.” See their ideas for a better Michigan here: http://thecenterformichigan.net/

See the The Republican and Democratic Party “plans” here: https://www.migop.org/and  https://michigandems.com/

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is a nonpartisan research and educational institute. They describe their work as being “dedicated to improving the quality of life for all Michigan citizens by promoting sound solutions to state and local policy questions. The Mackinac Center assists policy makers, scholars, business people, the media and the public by providing objective analysis of Michigan issues. The goal of all Center reports, commentaries and educational programs is to equip Michigan citizens and other decision makers to better evaluate policy options.” They are attempting to broaden the debate on issues that, from their perspective, “have been dominated by the belief that government intervention should be the standard solution.” Mackinac Center ideas: http://www.mackinac.org/1662

Not to be forgotten, labor, educators, lawyers, doctors, other professions and trade associations—along with local and regional entities—have parochial plans all now tugging for attention.

So, who’s agenda/plan will prevail? Is it possible to select, like a  Chinese menu, ideas from the various camps to develop a unified plan that propels us forward in our hyper-competitive, disruptive, technologically-driven global economy where ideas and jobs can and do move around the work instantaneously?

Change Must Produce Progress

Elections produce change. Centuries ago, the great Italian political theorist, Niccolo Machiavelli, wrote: “There is nothing more difficult to manage, or more doubtful of success, or more dangerous to handle than to take the lead in introducing a new order of things.” 

He also said, “The innovator/change agent has enemies in all those who are doing well under the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who do well under the new order.”

Having a well-defined vision and plan that citizens can rally behind will be the ticket into the governor’s office in 2018.

2018 Governor’s Race 

The 2018 race for the Michigan Governor’s office will serve the people well if it is about ideas that embrace the future and provides a path that enables the majority of Michigan citizens to get there. 

I encourage the business, labor,  think tanks and trade associations mentioned here (and others) to consider cosponsoring a marketplace of ideas where the political candidates for Governor, once the field is set, come together under one tent to expound on their vision and plan to advance the interest of the citizens of our great state.

Ideas and leadership – these matter!

Tom Watkins has been a sought out commentator on public policy issues in Michigan for decades. He has worked across party lines to forge change that has led to progress in juvenile justice, child welfare, human and behavioral services, pre-K-12 and higher education. He can be emailed at: [email protected], or followed on twitter at:@tdwatkins88


Tom Watkins

Tom Watkins has an eclectic career in both the public and private sectors. He served the citizens of Michigan as state superintendent of schools and director of the department of mental health. He has held leadership positions in higher education, business and behavioral health. Watkins has a interest and passion in all things China and has written hundreds of article on the value of this most important bilateral relationship in the world today.

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