Gov sees opportunity to keep young talent of Mich. colleges home

Daniel Howes| The Detroit News

Detroit — Buy Michigan soon could get a whole new meaning.

In hopes of replicating the success of a two-year-old program encouraging Michigan companies to buy goods and services from Michigan suppliers, the state’s economic development agency is in the early stages of devising a parallel effort to match college graduates with job openings in companies across the state — including the estimated 60,000 vacancies going unfulfilled.

“We know it’s important for us … to get these young people before prospective employers,” Mike Finney, CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., said Monday at Gov. Rick Snyder’s 2013 Economic Summit in Cobo Center here. “We’re starting to scale that up. We’ve got to start facilitating the connectedness to make these things happen.”

The effort, based on a pilot program that aims to connect qualified technical school graduates with open jobs, is an extension of the governor’s efforts to boost job creation, lower an unemployment rate hovering around 9 percent and encourage the state’s business community to take a leading role in spurring economic growth.

“There are three ‘Cs’ that are critically important,” Snyder said in his opener to the two-day conference. “Collaboration is about working with the private sector to say ‘what are your needs today and tomorrow?’ The second ‘C’ is about creating talent … (and) giving people the tools to be successful. Finally, connecting those tools.”

In an interview, the governor said economic development is about more than extending “tax credits. It’s about people helping people.” And the traditional system for matching the supply of talent to demand in the private sector “is broken, and it’s not just broken in Michigan. It’s broken nationally.”

In that, the relentlessly positive Snyder sees opportunity. There’s opportunity to keep graduates of Michigan’s colleges and universities at home; opportunity to attract talent from other states if Michigan can develop a program to connect talent to employment; and opportunity to leverage the promise of a recovering economy.

Still, challenges lie ahead. A new report by Business Leaders for Michigan, expected to be released this week, concludes Michigan is producing the talent “with the right education,” but too many of the state’s would-be employees do not possess the skills that prospective employers say they need in today’s economy.

The report, issued by the state’s leading CEO roundtable, also concludes that Michigan’s slow population growth and comparatively low educational attainment likely will not keep pace over the longer term with the changing demands of employers or the transition to a knowledge economy expected to require higher education levels.

Michigan is at an inflection point. A re-engineered auto industry, a recovering state economy, rationalized budget and tax policy in Lansing, private reinvestment in Detroit and an imminent financial restructuring of Detroit’s disastrous balance sheet are combining into a virtuous circle that is poised to change the narrative about Michigan and its largest city — here and outside the state.

“The southeast Michigan region is by far the fastest growing region in our company,” said Jim Dunlap, the Grand Rapids-based senior executive vice president of Huntington Bank. The bank recently signed an agreement to open branches in 99 Meijer Inc. stores over the next 10 years, a move that would rank the Columbus, Ohio-based bank number two in Michigan.

The vibe is changing. Four years after two of Detroit’s three automakers began preparing for bankruptcy, a growing chunk of the state’s private sector and political leadership in Lansing is coalescing around an unofficial Grand Bargain that should be increasingly clear.

The deal, to anyone paying attention? Business will look to invest and expand in the state and its largest city, Detroit, if Lansing keeps doing what it can to improve the business environment and the state’s competitiveness.

“When those things intersect,” Dunlap said, “you’ve got a magic ability to move progress and go forward. Credibility should always be tipped toward those who have the most to gain — and to lose.”

The same thing could be said about something as simple as devising what Snyder calls “Pure Michigan Talent Connect,” a clearinghouse that aims to match job openings across the state with young people coming out of the state’s colleges, universities and technical schools.

Credibility inures to those willing to step out, to adapt to the way things are — not the way they want them to be, to understand that the past has passed and that using a few levers of government to bolster private employment can be a good thing whose time has come.

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