Prosperity comes from a focus on people, policy and place on a regional scale part 5

It takes a region to provide the places, variety, resources and attributes to attract people. Economic development also needs to be coordinated among state, regional, educational, local government and private sectors.

Categories of across-the-board various strategies for Michigan to be competitive in the new economy. | Results of a Land Policy Institute Prosperity Initiative for Michigan
Categories of across-the-board various strategies for Michigan to be competitive in the new economy. | Results of a Land Policy Institute Prosperity Initiative for Michigan

Local governments are not the only ones with an important role to bring Michigan back to prosperity in the new economy. State government and educational institutions also have vital parts to do.

This series spoke of the new economic age and playing field and compared the old economy and new economy, pointing out this shift has already occurred and Michigan still needs to catch up with the change. The series then focused on the importance of attracting people and stated that population growth is economic growth. Thus, population attraction strategies by local communities are important with placemaking and local government coordinating with regions.

For the state as a whole, the research done by MSU and other Michigan universities outlined fourteen broad categories of strategies for having prosperity. Those fourteen categories can be divided into three general areas: people, policy and place.

These three general areas also tend to fall into different camps for implementation. Issues around people are things most likely to be within the realm of the education system. Policy focuses on state-wide organizations and state government. Place are things best suited for local and regional government.

In the new economy, businesses think in regional terms. An industry does not choose to move to a township, village, county or a city. An industry is choosing to locate in a region or sub-region. The assets and attributes businesses look for is more than what exists in a single municipality. The customer base, labor pool, education system, medical services and many more things are regional (multiple counties) or sub-regional (maybe two counties) in size. If local government is not also thinking in regional terms and presenting a regional picture, it runs the danger of not even speaking the same language as the industry it is trying to attract. 

This should not be a surprise. A question I often ask an audience is, “How many of you live, shop, work, play, learn, socialize, go to church and everything else without ever leaving the boundaries of your local government?”  Of course, no one raises their hand. We all live our lives in a region or sub-region. The regional approach for new economy strategies about people, policy and place also apply.

The first area is a focus on people, enhancing the talent and skills that people have. This largely falls to the educational system. That includes K-12, community colleges, universities, Michigan Works, private and nongovernmental organizations, and economic development organizations. Strategies include educating our future workforce. In the new economy, there is a direct relationship between how well the population is educated and the median income in the state. In the old economy, that was not the case, and Michigan did well median income-wise. Today it is very important. The states with the most economic success and highest median income have a workforce which has 50 percent with bachelor degrees or higher. Michigan’s is around 25-27 percent. This is not saying everyone has to go to college, but a larger percentage of students should be receiving higher education. Additional strategies are re-tooling the existing workforce, attracting and retaining talent. It also means advancing innovation and technology with training, research and development. The educational and nongovernmental organizations also have a role to create an entrepreneurial culture through the teaching of creative arts and community acceptance and fostering of entrepreneurialism. A strategy is also to work to market and promote the region the education institutions are located within.

While the accompanying graphic and this article divide economic development tasks among various government entities, it does not have to be done that way. For example, Kalamazoo Promise is a multi-government and non-profit effort. Many communities understand the attraction of knowledge/talent workers means getting education beyond high school. So, various structures of investment in higher education are being done within a number of Michigan communities. The goal is to grow that talent right at home. Success is pointed out by research done by the W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research: Kalamazoo scholarships increased the number college degrees received. For every $1 invested in college, one can expect $11 more in pay over the course of a person’s career. Higher education pays back big time, not just for the individual with higher pay and health, but also for the region. The more educated the workforce, the faster the recovery from recessions, and the more attractive those communities are to potential new employers, according to the Kresge Foundation’s materials.

So, while education mainly falls to the education system, local government and non-profit organizations can also have an important role.

The second area focuses on policy and improving the business climate. It is largely a state government (legislature) function and deals with regional and local organizations. Shaping responsive government to the needs of the new economy (including focusing state services around the new state regions) becomes an important strategy. The state can also diversify and globally connect businesses. Financial issues include increasing capital funding and designing a fair and competitive tax structure. The state level efforts also have a role to create an entrepreneurial culture with the education system. Also, the state can enhance transportation connections and choices.

The local role for this means streamlining zoning and local review and approval processes. Things like one-stop-shopping so one can get all their permits with one stop and one location. Strategies include having deadlines decisions on site plan review, special use permits; considering home occupations as an “automatic” activity in a home; mixed use districts, downtowns; allowing a mix of housing types; broadly defined agriculture that allows many more types of activities; accommodating alternative energy (with such structures as part of buildings, etc.); fewer special uses replaced with permitted uses; and requiring affordable housing for the workforce.

The third area is a focus on place, enhancing community through placemaking, and is done by city, village, township and county governments; regions; private and nongovernmental organizations; and economic development organizations. This series of articles already focused on strengthening quality of place (placemaking and all that entails) in part 4. This includes enhancing green and blue infrastructure opportunities. It also means optimizing infrastructure investment, such as re-directing some spending toward new technology like high-speed internet. It also means working with state efforts to enhance transportation connections and choices and working with educational systems to market and promote the region.

All these efforts need to work together. There are many different actors needed to do all these things. Coordination between them all is necessary. If that cooperation does not already exist, it needs to be initiated. In part three of this series, we pointed out that a community that works together has many collaborative and cooperative efforts (between public, private, non-governmental and non-profit organizations) for accomplishing community-wide projects and will be several steps ahead toward prosperity. 

In part four, we indicated this cooperation needs to also span geography to be regional. It was one of the very important findings about successful communities in the new economy: having a regional (multi-county) partnership. 

Two final thoughts:  Dr. Adesoji “Soji” Adelaja, the professor of economics that headed up the applied research behind what Michigan needs to be doing to be prosperous in the new economy, said in exasperation, “Michigan has the natural resources, people and all the other assets for economic success that the rest of the world envy. But no one seems to promote them or use them, and some do not even recognize them as assets.” How can a state be so blind to all it has at its disposal? The point is, Michigan has the resources needed to be successful.

Finally, Michigan was a system of economic downtown for decades. It will take dedication, long-term commitment and many years for strategies outlined here to have full effect.

Those in Michigan State University Extension that focus on land use provide various training programs on planning and zoning, which are available to be presented in your county. Contact your local land use educator for more information.

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