According to the 2014 Great Lakes Economic Outlook Survey, acquiring and retaining top talent is the top priority in order to boost Michigan’s economy. Hello, and thanks for joining us. I’m Laurel Hess and this is Comcast Newsmakers. Joining me now is the Managing Partner of Baker Strategy Group, Dr. Margaret Baker. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Thank you very much for having me.
What exactly is this survey, the Michigan Economic Outlook Survey that has recently been done? Who took it what is the purpose?
It’s done by Baker Strategy Group in Ann Arbor. We actually started this type of survey in 2009. We worked exclusively with the Michigan Manufacturers Association for about six years, so we have quite a good data set from them. Last year, we decided to go with all of Michigan. We included business, nonprofit, and public sectors. Then this past year in December, we went to the Great Lakes Economic Outlook Survey. We actually surveyed six of the Great Lakes states and got a total of about 2,800 responses.
What were you looking to find out, and what did you find out?
We wanted to find out what perceptions of Michigan—we focused mostly on Michigan—of businesses. So, for example, we found out that the willingness to recommend Michigan is up in all three sectors: business, public, and nonprofit. That’s a very promising finding. As far as businesses go, there is a lot of excitement about the 3-year, 12-month, and 6-month outlook. Michigan is business-friendly, and businesses are wanting to expand here, and to hire more people. All of those were up with businesses in Michigan.
Yet still, you hear all the pessimism about how we don’t have a good tax structure here and we’re not business-friendly. Are we getting better, or is that still a major challenge for us?
We are definitely getting better, though the challenges remain. What we found was interesting. While the perception of Michigan as a whole is up, perception of the regions (how businesses rated their regions) was rated lower. Things like attracting and retaining top talent, ensuring the quality of the Great Lakes, improving education, and revitalizing our cities. Those are top priorities in the region. And so it seems to be that the work needs to be done within the regions. Michigan as a whole is doing well, but there needs to be more communication, for example, between community colleges and business. What types of courses do we need? What kind of skills need to be developed? That’s an area of challenge.
So then, how do we do that? How do we put these findings into action so that next year when you do this survey we have even better results?
I think it comes down to people; it comes down to communication. It comes down to a region getting together and saying, “We have this common goal. We want Michigan to be a great place to grow a business. We want our regions—Southeast Michigan, Detroit region—to be a great place. What can we do?” Get the chamber of commerce and education communities together. Having a vision together for this common goal is really going to make a difference.
Are there any specific niche opportunities, such as in Grand Rapids they need to be doing this? Or, with the situation in Detroit unique right now, this is what needs to happen. How specific does the survey get?
The survey does not get specific. However, some of the initiatives that are happening right now are exactly in line with our data. For example, we know that the Pure Michigan campaign has been very successful for tourism. Now there is the Business Connect (www.michiganbusiness.org). That is doing exactly what you’re saying. If you’re in Grand Rapids, for example, and you need a certain type of software engineer, you can go on that website and find out where are the people, or where are the services that you might need. The Detroit Regional Chamber, more locally, is also doing Smart Grid (www.smartgrid.com). They are trying to hook up entrepreneurs, capital, talent, and businesses, which is exactly what you’re talking about.
It sounds like, perhaps, the biggest challenge is getting top talent to come to Michigan and to stay here.
Yes, and I think that in the same way the Pure Michigan helped people to look at Michigan and say, “Wow, that’s the place where I’d like to go have a vacation,” the idea is that when these groups are getting together, we want people to think, “That’s where I want to grow my business. I want to go to Michigan and grow my business.”
Wouldn’t that be great. Thanks so much for joining us.
Thank you very much for having me.
Today’s Comcast Newsmakers was Dr. Margaret Baker, Managing Partner of Baker Strategy Group.