Jobs fruit ripens without subsidies

Posted on February 9, 2012

Things must be moving in the right direction if Michigan business is trolling for high-tech workers among Cape Canaveral’s laid-off space shuttle employees.

“They hope to persuade high-tech, skilled applicants to return home to a state that is in need of both young and experienced talent in the IT, engineering and defense industries,” Central Florida News 13 reported Wednesday. Imagine that: The alleged epicenter of industrial decline is recruiting on the Space Coast.

Nearly a dozen Michigan companies — including Chrysler Group LLC, Quicken Loans Inc., SAIC Nexteer Automotive, Urban Science and Gentex Corp. — this week are taking part in the latest of several MichAGAIN jobs fairs in conjunction with the Michigan Economic Development Corp. Other recruitment sites include Boston, Chicago, Austin, Texas, and, later this year, Washington and Los Angeles.

Yes, you read that right. The Big Mitten, home to an estimated 70,000 job openings, is plumbing high-tech corridors on the coasts for talent to meet demand from expanding employers in the automotive, IT and engineering spaces, to name three. And that’s not all.

Slowly, a series of programs organized by the MEDC to benefit established Michigan companies is beginning to deliver meaningful results — and doing it without the huge taxpayer subsidies and politically correct preferences favored by the administration of former Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

Nearly 800 companies based around the state are now part of the Pure Michigan Business Connect initiative, a public-private partnership launched by Gov. Rick Snyder less than a year ago at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual Mackinac Policy Conference.

Instead of building an economic development strategy around the high-stakes game of “hunting” for trophy plants, research centers and corporate headquarters, the program aims to leverage indigenous expertise and regional financial institutions to help existing Michigan businesses grow.

That means matching legal acumen, accounting services and financial capability with local companies seeking any or all three and, second, helping to bolster the supply chains of large Michigan-based companies with suppliers from inside the state.

“My experience is you can absolutely make the market and increase your (Michigan) content,” Gerry Anderson, chairman of DTE Energy Co., said in an interview. “You can’t do uncompetitive things or source from companies that are not prepared to do it in the marketplace. We want to get people to match or beat the market.”

By the sound of things, DTE is succeeding. When the governor announced the program in the middle of last year, DTE pledged to boost its $475 million purchasing from Michigan companies by $50 million in the first year. It more than doubled the goal, spending $597 million with Michigan companies in 2011.

“The intent is to keep doing this,” Anderson said. “It’s not a one-time shot. It’s like a lot of things: What you watch, manage and focus on changes.”

Yes, it does. Under the program, DTE also is working with prospective suppliers vying for contracts and sometimes encouraging “them to sharpen their pencils.” Over the next few years, the utility expects to buy up to 60 percent of its roughly $1.5 billion in annual purchasing (excluding fuel and natural gas) from Michigan-based suppliers.

That creates jobs and expands payrolls, grows top lines and fattens bottom lines, stabilizes property values and boosts depleted state and local tax revenue. And it’s an example worth emulating.

If our “Lost Decade” and Detroit’s automotive unraveling taught anything, it should be that economic competitiveness supports jobs and jobs support quality of life and all of it is supported by the individual economic decisions made by CEOs and individuals alike — not politicians convinced they can pick the next new thing.

None of these state initiatives, or the purchasing decisions made by DTE Energy or any other major corporate player, will restore Michigan’s economic luster. The Big Lie was thinking, as too many implied, that they could, that any new industry (gaming?) or sector (alternative energy?) would deliver the state from its self-imposed economic purgatory.

They didn’t. But minding the fundamentals and giving those already here help and reasons to stay and prosper? That’s another question entirely.

Daniel Howes, The Detroit News