Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm announced yesterday she'll travel to Sweden and Germany later this summer on a mission to bring jobs and investment back to the dispirited Great Lakes State.
Certainly these sorts of foreign trade trips can lure some employment opportunities and raise Michigan's profile as an active player in the global marketplace. But if Gov. Granholm seriously aims "to go anywhere and do anything" to jumpstart Michigan's economy, she should immediately book a flight to Washington D.C.
Federal legislation is languishing there that, if passed, could immediately generate hundreds of thousands of jobs, program billions in public spending for much needed infrastructure projects, overhaul the region's Rust Belt image, and ultimately position the upper Midwest to compete in the 21st century.
I know, I know: everybody in Michigan has an opinion on where Gov. Granholm, a Democrat, should go these days.
Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis says, "if the governor wants to go on a ‘real’ jobs mission, she should travel to other [U.S.] states to convince the hundreds of companies that have left Michigan on her watch to come back."
Detroit News Columnist Daniel Howes says Granholm should head to China and tap money in what he calls the "biggest new frontier in the global auto industry."
Gov. Granholm says previous trips to Germany and Japan have returned more than $302 million and 2,300 new jobs to Michigan. Every bit of that is important for a state struggling with one of the nation's highest rates of unemployment.
But those stats represent a small return compared to what Michigan could gain from passage of the proposed Great Lakes restoration legislation stalled in Congress. The $20 billion proposal would have a direct, deep, and lasting effect on the state and region's dismal economic situation.
The proposed $7.5 billion or so in proposed federal funding alone could establish some 350,000 short-term construction jobs. The public works project would also accelerate urban revitalization by luring private investment to reclaimed river- and water-fronts; enhance a globally unique quality of life that's essential to attracting top flight talent; and spur new industries in water technology and stewardship, a booming $300 billion global business.
The vast majority of Great Lakes and national leaders, however, view the proposal simply as a one dimensional, big government, environmental cleanup effort supported by tree huggers, recreational boaters, and fishing enthusiasts. They don't view it as an essential component of a modern development strategy that will return measurable fiscal results. So it's failed to gain much traction since its introduction in December 2005.
If Gov. Granholm truly wants to position Michigan strategically for prosperity in the Digital Age, she should add D.C. to her travel schedule, and officially introduce the economic case for restoring the Great Lakes.