Detroit Economic Club's 2013 Michigan Economic Outlook: Retaining Talent, Improving Higher Ed Key to State's Success

Detroit Economic Club's 2013 Michigan Economic Outlook: Retaining Talent, Improving Higher Ed Key to State's Success
January 8, 2013/Mlive

By David Muller 

DETROIT, MI - Higher education was noted several times as key to developing a skilled and talented workforce in Michigan going forward at the Detroit Economic Club's 2013 Michigan Economic Outlook luncheon Tuesday. 

Speakers Mike Finney, President and CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and Charles Ballard, a professor of economics at Michigan State University, stressed higher education as vital to building a strong economy in the state.

Ballard, while noting that he is himself involved in higher education, was candid with his thoughts as he compared Michigan to North Carolina: 

“(North Carolina) is the same size state, they spend two and-a-half times as much on higher education. That means tuition at their universities is correspondingly lower.  … We’ve followed in the last 10 to 15 years a policy of disinvestment in higher education. I think it’s been a mistake, I hope we reverse it. We’ve really gone very hard in one direction, it’s the wrong direction, and I’m very hopeful that Gov. Snyder will lead us back in the other direction.”

Finney agreed, and said the state hasn’t had a sufficient pipeline for talent development and retention, and so the MEDC has been working on that, with universities throughout Michigan.

“We’ve found ourselves not having the eco system that can support entrepreneurs,” Finney said. “If you strictly talk about the entrepreneur community, it’s actually the innovation pipeline that’s most critical to having a viable venture capital community. In other words, the dollars will go where the innovations and the talent that can drive those innovations are. “

Later, Ballard made an interesting point about higher education and immigration policy that drew applause. He said he was at a meeting with several CEOs, and they all told him the same thing: 

“Every one of them said, ‘Our immigration policy is just insane. We bring the best and the brightest from all over the world to our universities to learn cutting edge laboratory techniques and then we say, you’re not welcome here, go back to China, go back to India and Brazil, start up your own labs and then you can compete against us.’ I think what we ought to do is if you are in a Phd or a Masters (program), especially in science and engineering, we should staple a green card to you.”

Some results of the first annual Michigan Economic Outlook survey were also released Tuesday. The DEC says the survey includes input from more than 3,000 people and 70 associations throughout Michigan.  In the survey, 64 percent of respondents said Michigan was “on the right track,” but only 48 percent said they think the state has “a strong vibrant economy.”

The survey results make for “an interesting dichotomy,” noted  panel moderator Tom Walsh, business columnist at the Detroit Free Press. Walsh also noted that Michigan is 36th in the country for higher education attainment.