We will all remember the Great Recession here in Michigan, which we are still digging ourselves out of in 2015. And, yes, despite the whispered concern that our comeback cannot really be placed in the class of a solid, assured recovery, there are some positive signs. For one, unemployment is down and expected to continue inching lower. The Research Seminar of Quantitative Economics at the University of Michigan projects the decline to continue, ever so slightly, and says 6.4 percent will be the rate in Michigan when we hit 2016. Don't forget the growth of the Michigan Real Gross Domestic Product, a gauge of the monetary values of goods and services produced within the state's borders, no matter where the product was purchased. From 2012 to 2013 there was a two percent growth rate. And property values appear to be climbing along with the sales price of homes on the market. Thank heaven, some state and locals officials have even started to address issues beyond just a short-term improvement in economic indicators, chief among them the continued brain drain in Michigan – you know, the net loss each year of the knowledge population, defined as the younger generation ages 22 to 34, with a Bachelor's degree or higher. Of course, most are also well aware of the leaders from the business community and their efforts to draw the young Millennials back into rebounding metropolitan areas, where three-quarters of Michigan's in-migration takes place each year. The fact of the matter remains, however, Michigan is still a net exporter of the knowledge population each year. A 2008 study by think tank Michigan Future Inc. showed that one-half of Michigan college grads left here within one year of getting a degree. The State Board of Labor just released a report showing that despite current efforts, the brain drain continues. In 2010, the state had a 4.4 percent net migration loss in the knowledge class, followed by a 2 per cent loss in 2011; 2.2 percent drop in 2012; and a net migration decline of 3.5 percent in 2013. State officials already know that 37 percent of the knowledge population in-migration comprises former Michigan residents moving home and there are some who say we need to focus more of our effort and direct more state policy at luring this group. All of these efforts will ultimately prove fruitless unless we also address the perception, deservedly so, that Michigan is an unwelcoming place – which is certainly the view among the knowledge class members I know of who have left the state as I randomly conduct a windshield survey of their thoughts. My youngest son, now residing in Manhattan, probably captured it best a few months ago when he offered that Michigan was regressive, (i.e. – dominated by a far right agenda in Lansing) and not some place he would choose to move. For my oldest son, also in New York City and a professional in the film industry, a return is out of the question. The message has been loud and clear in the last few years that the film industry incentives were, at a minimum, going to be reduced. This year they have been cut to $25 million, and from that $19 million goes to the bail out of a Pontiac film studio debt to a state pension fund that helped finance its start up by members of the Oakland County well-to-do class. Then we have the proposal in Lansing that come 2017, all funding will be cut, possibly including closure of the state film office. But back to the viewpoint that Michigan has developed a reputation as not an inclusive state. The most recent example of a negative signal sent to those looking to move here from the knowledge group is the passage of legislation in Lansing to allow state religion-based adoption agencies to refuse service to those who don't pass audition under the groups' faith-based tenets. These groups get slightly over half ($10 million) of available state and federal budget funds (our tax money) each year to run their operations. This legislation has been criticized as discriminatory against not only just same-sex couples, but also unmarried couples, those whose faith differs from the religious adoption agency's beliefs and those with no faith at all. It's just one more step in a slow march by the majority (Republicans) in Lansing to tighten up control on personal rights advocated by a vocal religious and conservative minority which exercises inordinate power in the House and Senate. If we are going to bring the state back to an even keel, now, while we build a foundation for the future by keeping our talented college graduates, bringing native Millennials back and those who have yet to even visit our state, then public policy must take into consideration what the next generation seeks rather than a knee jerk, short-sighted reaction to a special interest group that wields influence in Lansing or marching to the drumbeat of either political party. We already apply this logic as we design public services, such as mass transit and future infrastructure needs, based on changing demands and desires. It is only fitting that we apply the same planning principles to social issues of concern. I think that probably captures it best. Have a good, and meaningful, Independence Day (Fourth of July) holiday.
David Hohendorf Publisher DavidHohendorf@downtownpublications.com