Breaking Michigan's Circle Jerk

I'm always grumpy after a presentation by Lou Glazer, the sharp-minded, even-keeled president of Michigan Future, Inc.

Not because Glazer and his partner, the University of Michigan researcher Donald Grimes, make a convincing case that Michigan needs to get younger, smarter, and less dependent on low-skill manufacturing to prosper in the 21st century. The thesis, in my view, is right on the mark.

What's frustrating is that leaders in Michigan, sleep walking through the state's biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, have known and ignored those ideas for decades.

Read the recent column by Rick Haglund, Booth Newspapers' Michigan business reporter. Way back in November 1984, Haglund reminds us, government officials released The Path to Prosperity report which said Michigan must elevate educational attainment, rediscover its entreprenuerial spirit, and get more strategic with economic development spending.

That's essentially what Glazer and Grimes recommended yesterday at a briefing on the progress of the state's transition toward a knowledge economy. In other words, Michigan has been running around in circles hesitating to act on basic solutions for more than two decades now while budgets collapse, people lose their jobs, and the pace of global change only accelerates.

Glazer and Grimes also said - and this is increasingly obvious given the intractable problems and frozen politics in the state - nothing less than a cultural revolution is required to get the state back on track.

In a new economy that rewards learning and innovation, too many people and elected officials in Michigan still undervalue a college education and entreprenuership. Half the parents in the state, Glazer said, believe higher education is not important to their kids' future.

At a time when diversity keys creativity and competitiveness, Michigan remains among the most segregated states in the Union.

As college grads and knowledge workers flock to vibrant urban regions like San Jose, Denver, and Boston, Michigan continues to resist an aggressive strategy that targets state economic development spending to accelerate the revitalization of its Rust Belt cities

Heck, we even still smoke cigarettes in the public house.

What's more, the current leadership not only fails to recognize and respond to the changing world, they're making choices all but guaranteed to keep the state squarely on the path to disaster and decline.

"Quality of place and higher education, particularly central cities with major research universities, are essential public investment priorities," Glazer said. "The interesting thing is that over the last decade the two areas of the state budget that have been cut the most: revenue sharing [to cities] and higher education. If you want to grow a knowledge economy that's not smart."

"New leadership - both public and business - is most important," he added.