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The Key to Michigan's Future: Embracing Change2 February 2005
With all the talk in the past week about the Governor's proposed changes to the Single Business Tax, there has been a renewed focus on the State of Michigan's ability to attract new business. Tax changes are important and will create the proper economic climate to foster growth. However, tax changes alone will not solve the problem. For Michigan to step into the 21st century, people within the state must be willing to embrace and accept change and allow progress to occur, even when they are somewhat uncomfortable with it.
For as long as any of us can remember, Michigan's economy has centered around the automotive industry. Manufacturing jobs have been our bread and butter. As a result of a variety of factors, including more liberal trade policies, increased foreign competition and the cheap cost of labor overseas, the growth of this employment sector has stalled, and many companies have down-sized the Michigan segment of their business. For young people, finding employment opportunities in the automotive sector has become difficult, if not impossible. As a result, many of our best and brightest are leaving the state looking for opportunities elsewhere. Thus, many of our businesses and our state economy largely focus on the same aging group of baby boomers, whose world view resists the inevitable changes which are occurring by ignoring them or denying their existence.
But look about you. Changes have occurred. We now live in a culture dominated by technology, television, entertainment, tourism and marketing. As our best and brightest graduate and look for their best opportunity in life, will Michigan have what it takes to have them stay? Culturally, do we have venues to provide the jobs to keep them here? Are there "cool cities" and places for people to be entertained? Better yet does our state stand out among the 49 other states and thousands of international cities as a place to consider relocating to?
In the last ten years, one segment of our economy has seen enormous growth. Twenty casinos scattered throughout our state have all enjoyed enormous positive responses from customers. The revenue numbers have been phenomenal and demonstrate the true hunger that people in this state have to be entertained. From an employment perspective, the gaming industry has provided over 35,000 jobs in this state, many to people who had limited opportunities elsewhere. However, despite this growth, little effort has been placed on integrating the gaming industry into our existing industries so that new synergies can be created. Instead, the state has alienated the industry and Wall Street investors by reacting to this success by raising taxes with a whopping 33 percent increase.
When casinos were first proposed for the City of Detroit, there was a grand vision. Three casinos side by side with privately owned convention facilities near the riverfront with a fabulous park directly on the river. There were to be large hotels connected to the casinos and retail shopping provided by General Motors, all ready in time for the 2006 Super Bowl. Through no fault of the casino operators, this clear vision was derailed. Detroit now struggles with how to expand and improve Cobo in order to keep its one big event per year (the auto show).
The Baseball All-Star Game this coming summer and the Super Bowl next winter were to be Detroit and Michigan's big coming out parties to the world. Will we be ready? Will the open view of the cement silos that so many insisted upon give the hip new image we need to attract new business and young people here?
You see, it is one thing to say you want "cool cities" and want to bring high-tech jobs to the region. It is another to actually accomplish it. If we truly want change, and we better for all of our sakes, we need to embrace change and focus on the positives rather than finding excuses in the negatives to preserve the status quo.
Casino gaming is not the cure to all of our ills. But, done right, it can provide one step toward making the region more attractive to the outside world so that everyone can succeed. To succeed in this highly competitive task, we need to focus on the ultimate customer. What will it take to make the customer have a better experience? How can the state pool its resources to play the role of a good and inviting host? Do we have the hotel rooms we need, the convention space, the restaurants and the entertainment venues to keep visitors and citizens happy? If we are not where we need to be, do we have a plan for how we are going to get there? Is this plan focused on helping our successful businesses thrive even more, or will we tax them into oblivion and send the message to Wall Street that the cost of success in Michigan is higher taxes? Even with a plan, will we have the strength in our convictions to see the vision through despite the inevitable naysayers?
The answers to these questions will determine our future. We have two choices: (1) to be an aging industrial state that relies on the sympathy of the automotive industry to survive, with citizens who focus on their own entitlement to good times because they have suffered through the bad times, or (2) to be a vibrant competitive marketplace with multiple industries and entertainment venues, a diverse culture, and a state-wide "hospitality" mindset that is warm and inviting and focused on the pleasure of those who visit, live and work here.
As Governor Granholm, our state legislators and southeastern Michigan local government officials look toward 2005 and beyond, they should embrace our strengths, focus on cooperating and bridge the gap between the existing entertainment industries and the other segments of our state's economy so that everyone can succeed. If our leaders choose to do this, then they will immediately have a strong core of state ambassadors who will advocate Michigan as a place to be and be seen.
Our state motto is: "If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you." If we want a pleasant peninsula, we all need to do our part to make it as inviting and hospitable as possible.