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.

Now, NITC backers have their own TV ad

By Paul Egan
Detroit Free Press Lansing Bureau

On the same day leaders from Michigan and Canada signed a historic agreement to build a new bridge linking Detroit and Windsor, the first pro-bridge TV ad hit the airwaves.

The nonprofit corporation that paid for the TV ads, the Fund for Michigan Jobs, also paid for billboards that went up Friday in the Detroit area in support of the new public bridge, said Tom Shields, the Lansing spokesman for a coalition backing the New International Trade Crossing.

Shields said the Fund for Michigan Jobs is not directly tied to his pro-NITC group.

Until now, only TV ads slamming the proposed bridge have run, paid for by Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun.

His companies have spent more than $5 million on such ads in the last two years.

“I think it’s about time the supporters of the bridge and supporters of what the governor is doing were out there selling their case to the general public,” Shields said.

“You can’t match the Moroun family dollar for dollar, but you may not have to.”

The TV ad focuses on the jobs the bridge would create and features illustrations using words or phrases of the bridge coming together from opposite sides of the Detroit River.

The Fund for Michigan Jobs was incorporated in 2008 but appears to have been mostly inactive until recently.

Alan Wilk, a Lansing attorney with the Dykema law firm, is listed in state records as the fund’s resident agent. He could not be reached for comment late Friday.

One of Michigan’s success stories: impressive jump in exports

By Rick Haglun

One of the biggest — and largely unheralded — signs of Michigan’s economic recovery is the state’s impressive jump in exports.

The 2012 Michigan Scorecard ranked exporting as “good,” up from “average” in 2010.

But the state’s performance in selling Michigan-made goods around the world has improved even more since the 2012 Scorecard data was compiled.

Michigan exports of goods last year totaled $50.8 billion, a 55 percent increase since 2009, when the future of the state’s auto industry was in doubt.

State exports grew from $32.7 billion in 2009 to $44.8 billion in 2011, years measured in the 2012 Scorecard.

Michigan was the seventh-largest exporting state in 2010, but slipped to eighth last year. Louisiana jumped to seventh place as oil exports recovered from the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The majority of Michigan’s exports last year were cars, trucks and motor vehicle parts. But experts say the Great Recession forced many smaller companies to look for new global markets.

A total of 11,210 Michigan companies — 10,169 of them small businesses — were engaged in exporting in 2009, the latest available data from the U.S. Commerce Department.

“Companies realized in the downturn that they don’t have much choice anymore but to export,” said Patrick McRae, director of international programs at the Prima Civitas Foundation in Lansing.

Exporting supported 6.2 percent of all Michigan jobs in 2009 and 26.9 percent of all manufacturing jobs in the state, according to the latest Commerce Department figures.

Michigan’s agricultural exports grew from $1.18 billion in 2006 to $1.75 billion in 2010, a 48 percent increase, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Michigan is the nation’s 25th largest agricultural exporter.

Click here to read the full story.

Canada Trade Up In December; Michigan Tops Trading States

Gongwer News Service

Surface trade with Canada was up 11.2 percent in December from the same month in 2010, and Michigan saw the largest portion of that trade pass across its borders, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The report showed $44.2 billion in trade with Canada in December 2011 using trucks, rail and other surface routes. Of that, $5.59 billion passed through Michigan, a 19.7 percent increase from the year prior.

Illinois was second in trade with Canada at $4.76 billion, representing a 24.4 percent increase.

Michigan also made the top 10 in trade with Mexico during the month, with $3.65 billion, a 24.9 percent increase, of the $30 billion that moved across the nation’s southern border.

Total trade with Mexico was up 12.1 percent from the year prior, the report said.

Texas, with $10.28 billion, and California, with $4.46 billion, were the top Mexican trading states.

NITC Can Play A Role In Exports


(SAN ANTONIO) — Canadian Conservative Sen. Mike MacDONALD of Nova Scotia may be from across a border, but he came to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) summit armed with statistics proving he’s got a right to be in the mix.

“Our trade is so important to both nations, and anything we can be doing to expand trade we should be doing it. It’s in our best interest,” said MacDonald.

He came to a session on transportation as part of the annual NCSL summit, held this year in San Antonio, Texas. This year’s bipartisan conference will feature 150 sessions on issues including budget conditions, pensions, job recovery, health care and education.

MacDonald said that trade between the U.S. and Canada is $1.7 billion per day. In 2010 the two countries traded about $645 billion back and forth.

William RAMOS, director of Intergovernmental affairs for the U.S. Department of Commerce, is working to expand that level of trade. He said that only 1 percent of U.S. companies export.

One of President Barack OBAMA‘s goals is doubling the country’s exports by 2014. He’s working on trade agreements with South Korea, Columbia and Panama, which have the potential to increase exports by $13 billion. But a bigger opportunity may be right next door.

According to MacDonald, a literal barrier that could help eliminate trade barriers and improve an existing relationship is the New International Trade Crossing (NITC). In his opinion, the Matty MOROUN-owned crossing is an oddity.

“Nobody in Canada owns their own bridges,” he said.

He said that spans increase access for citizens, and if he were from Michigan the NITC stall over a potential private span wouldn’t be acceptable to him. As is, Canada has offered to sweeten the pot with $550 million. He thinks it’s a good investment.

Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Eric HUTCHINGS of Utah said that even far away Utah has identified Canada as a fertile ground for trade.

“Utah isn’t typically seen as a big exporter. We don’t have a harbor, we don’t have a shoreline, but we’re doing great,” said Hutchings.

The state decided to make trade an emphasis, and identified countries that would make good partners with industry in Utah. The state has increased exports and formed the Utah International Trade Commission.

Michigan, meanwhile, isn’t scoring very well on Canadian relations by delaying a second span.

“We’re not the biggest country in the world, Canada, but we’re still your biggest trading partner. People have got to remember that,” said MacDonald.