Doug Rothwell: Three resolutions for an improving Michigan

By Doug Rothwell

Detroit Free Press guest writer

January represents a time of resolve and optimism. It’s a time to resolve to break bad habits, accomplish new goals, and change things for the better.

This year also brings an opportunity to renew how we look at our state. Big steps have been taken the last few years to revitalize and rebuild Michigan. We have broken many of the bad habits that led to Michigan’s economic challenges by balancing our budgets and stopping the use of accounting gimmicks.

We’ve also taken some major steps to fundamentally make Michigan stronger, like improving Michigan’s tax climate, making government work better and adopting fairer benefits for government workers. While we’re a long way from being a top-10 state for jobs and incomes, we are on our way to building a new Michigan.

What’s needed now is continued resolve and a roadmap for continuing our path toward Michigan’s economic resurgence. Here are a few resolutions for Michigan to consider:

Invest in people: Most of the best-paying jobs require some level of college education, and these demands will rapidly increase in the next decade. Yet, while the need for a college education has gone up, Michigan has made it harder for students to afford to attend by cutting state funding for higher education nearly in half when adjusted for inflation over the past decade.

Right now, we spend 10 times more each year to house a prisoner than to help a student go to college in Michigan. Last year, an important step was taken toward turning this around when more money was allocated to higher education for the first time in a decade. Let’s resolve to take an additional step in 2013.

• Invest in infrastructure: The state has been debating for more than a decade how to provide the funding needed to ensure we have the highways, ports, railroads, bridges and airports that connect us effectively to the places we do business with. If we don’t have the infrastructure needed to ship what we make or serve our customers around the globe, we can’t grow our economy.

International trade opportunities are only going to grow as an economic driver, and Michigan is ideally situated to make the most of this trend. We have unique access to foreign markets and an airport that is poised to be a major global hub in air travel. Our water ports and rail access also make us a natural infrastructure launching point. What we need now is critical investment so we can capitalize on our strategic location to become a premier gateway to the Midwest.

Build on what we have and do more of what we do best: Like any business, there are some things Michigan has or does better than others. They include our engineering expertise, higher education system, geographic location, automotive industry, medical expertise and natural resources. The best way to grow more good-paying jobs is for the state and its regions to focus more on starting, growing and attracting companies that utilize these assets and less on everything else.

Business Leaders for Michigan has identified key economic drivers, policies and actions necessary to become a top-10 state. Our Michigan Turnaround Plan outlines a roadmap to becoming a state that offers our families and children a place with plentiful jobs, rewarding careers and great quality of life.

There’s a growing optimism that Michigan has begun a genuine turnaround. Let’s resolve to set spending priorities on the things that matter most and concentrate on what we do best.