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The Press and Michigan’s Economic Future

February 1, 2010

Starting this past Sunday, the Grand Rapids Press is running a 10-part series on how Michigan can jump-start its economy. The series is called Michigan 10.0 and the first few stories in the series are already indicating what the Press means by improving Michigan’s economy.

The lead story on Sunday, entitled “What Will It Take to Get Our State Back to Work?,” almost exclusively uses business and economic consultants as sources for the story. There is a separate article in the Sunday Press, which focuses on workers, but that article only talk with and about workers from the point of view that workers need to be re-training in the new economy.

The main article in this Press series focuses on what business leaders are advocating, people like Steelcase CEO Jim Hacket, Amway President Doug DeVos and CEO of the Right Place, Birgit Klohs. The strategy that these business leaders propose is a five-point plan:

  • Reform State government with an emphasis on downsizing it.
  • Reform Labor policy that will be attractive to businesses.
  • Focus on education & training – keeping students in school and providing training for new jobs.
  • Capitalize on infrastructure, resources and expertise.
  • Build policies geared toward helping small businesses.

Interestingly enough, this 5-point plan is very similar to the same 5-point plan that the West Michigan Regional Policy Conference came up with last year. The only major differences in these two 5-point plans is that the West Michigan Regional Policy group was advocating that Michigan become a right to work state….a non-union state.

This idea that organized labor makes the state unattractive to businesses is affirmed in a statement by Steelcase CEO Jim Hacket in Sunday’s Press story, where he says, “Our labor policy is not attractive to business. That gets politically toxic when it starts to drift into the issue of whether you’re union or not. I see it as a long-haul problem. At the same time, the perception of Michigan is negative, the attractiveness of labor rates in other parts of the world are more attractive.

In today’s Grand Rapids Press there is another front-page piece that is part of this series, but it’s not a story, rather an opinion piece by Press writer Rich Haglund. The preface to the story says that Haglund’s piece is “written as a counterpoint” to the main story in the series that began Sunday.

While it is true that Haglund disagrees with some of the points of view articulated in the original article, he does not offer any real plan other than to say that Michigan can no longer rely on manufacturing, particularly the auto industry. Haglund believes Michigan needs to replace manufacturing jobs with “knowledge” jobs. Haglund still is arguing that Michigan’s economy must improve within a free market framework.

The emphasis on a free-market approach to saving Michigan’s economy is affirmed by an interview in Monday’s Press, which is part of the Michigan 10.0 series. The interview is with Doug Rothwell, CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan. The Business Leaders for Michigan group also has its own 5-point plan for turning Michigan’s economy around, called Michigan Turnaround Plan.

After reading the content of the first several articles in this Press series it seems clear that what the sources cited so far are saying is that in order for Michigan’s economy to thrive it needs to follow a free market plan – downsize government, minimize or eliminate organized labor and invest in education for the purpose of creating knowledge workers.

What the articles in this series so far have ignored is the tremendous role that workers have played in creating wealth in this state over the past century. The series so far has also not acknowledged the role that trade policy has played in impacting Michigan’s economic decline. By 2001 it was well documented by the Economic Policy Institute that Michigan had lost over 46,000 jobs due to NAFTA. It is no coincidence that job loss in Michigan due to NAFTA happens during the same time that Michigan’s economy has taken a downturn.

As the rest of the series unfolds in the Press, we will continue to provide some analysis of Press sources and how the paper is framing the issue of Michigan’s economy.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 1, 2010 10:39 pm

    When you get rid of labor unions you destroy the middle class. Republicans want to turn the U.S. into a third world country.

    The democrats share some of the blame on NAFTA. Obama made some promises to amend NAFTA . We need to hold him to these promises.

    Congressman Kucinich offers a common sense approach to job creation. Allow one million people voluntary early retirement at the age of 60 instead of the standard 62 for early retirement.This would likely create close to one million permanent new job openings. Many people who work at jobs that involve heavy physical labor would jump at this chance to collect early on social security.The cost on this bill is around 15 billion , half the price of the additional request Obama is making for Afghanistan.

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