Gov. Rick Snyder is attending the Mackinac Policy Conference for the second time this year. Prior to last year’s conference, he said one of the themes he wanted to see was “people coming together in the new culture we need for our state.” Asked to what degree people have come together, he said there has been progress.
“It’s a work in progress, so it’s not done,” Snyder said. “You don’t change a culture overnight, but I think we’ve made tremendous progress.”
He pointed out that people are working better together, and that the jobs environment has improved dramatically since last year.
He also noted that a number of things discussed last year have been accomplished.
“And now we’re going to continue that dialogue,” he said. “I hope both on working on the cultural issue of better teamwork, working better together, and continuing to work on the same subject matter, which is the need for more and better jobs, and a brighter future for our kids.”
As to the state’s relationship with Detroit, Snyder said his administration has been very proactive about wanting to engage the city in a positive, constructive and supportive way.
His goal, he noted, isn’t to run Detroit, but to be a supporting resource.
Snyder also said he hopes there’s an environment in place to create that working relationship to provide additional supporting resources, particularly on growing the city.
“To grow the city, we need to deal with better financial stability, and we need better services for the citizens of Detroit,” he said.
Asked if he’s ever taken a drive through a random neighborhood, and if so what his assessment was, Snyder said he does things like that on a regular basis. and that he acknowledges that there’s tremendous room for improvement.
“One thing I try to do when we’re in the Detroit area is get off the freeways just drive around,” he said.
Snyder was at a recent No Kid Hungry campaign at Gompers Elementary School. He called it “an illustration of a really nice school” where the kids were excited, but also noted that there were four abandoned homes across the street.
“That’s not the kind of environment you want to have,” he said, adding that such a dichotomy clearly shows there are things that must be improved on.
Last September, a partnership between the state and the Council of Michigan Foundations led to the creation of the Office of Urban and Metropolitan Initiatives, which is based in Detroit. The office is overseen by Harvey Hollins III, whom Snyder called an important asset.
Snyder also said there will be an urban-focused dashboard at some point.
Returning to the subject of the Mackinac conference, Snyder said he wants to emphasize two major things he believes are adding value. The first is Pure Michigan Business Connect.
“Which is that concept of getting Michigan businesses to work more and better with one another,” he said, adding that we’ve already seen great success, particularly with Consumer’s Energy and DTE, as well as with a number of large lenders.
“We’re seeing good results from that, but I want to see many companies and organizations belong,” he said.
“The other one is MI talent.Org, our essentially Pure Michigan Talent Connect equivalent,” Snyder said. “Because we’ve got 80,000 open jobs in our state. And how do we get people connected with these jobs? Because these are great jobs, a lot of them are. And then how do we get more employers telling about their future employment needs?”
He prefers terms like “connecting talent” over “workforce development,” saying it’s more about talent and connecting supply and demand.
“We can do a much better job,” he said.
With respect to the outsider’s impression of Michigan, Snyder, who has traveled around the world, said it’s improving.
“Generally, it’s pretty positive,” he said. “I don’t get a lot of negative feedback, even on some of the Detroit issues.”
Snyder said Michigan has good things to build on; the state just needs to show results.
He reiterated the importance of getting Michiganders to do better business with one another.
“Lowest labor cost is not the driver,” he said. “It’s total cost to quality, and we’re high quality producers here.”
He also plans to stay on the talent question for the next several years.
“It’s just a great opportunity,” he said. “I don’t think anyone does it well in our country, in terms of making that connection.”
He said Germany provides the best illustration of how it’s done well.
“They do really well because they’ve built this program, you know this way of getting people into apprenticeships and other programs,” he said. “Skilled trades is a huge opportunity.”
Snyder added that while Michigan isn’t going to be just like Germany, one can see how the Germans were thoughtful and brought all the sectors together.
He emphasized, however, that the solution isn’t government solving problems.
“It’s government being part of a collaborative effort with the for-profit sector, the not-for-profit sector, everyone coming together and us playing a leadership role,” he said. “But it’s not just about spending money. It’s about bringing us together as a team, working together with relentless positive action.”
Snyder added that it’s working.
He said Germans he’s talked to understand what he’s doing for Michigan as opposed to the U.S.
“All I have to do is go through the list of accomplishments,” he said. “We are the role model.”
He added that Michigan has an appealing environment.
“And more than that, we’ve got people working much better together,” he said. “That’s where I view our opportunity here in Detroit. To get Detroit on the path of being a great city. Think about the power of Michigan with Detroit being on a path for success.”
The governor also spoke about the importance of making library services — especially those delivered via technology — available to all.
“Access to intellectual capital is the real question behind all this,” he said.
Snyder acknowledged the many services libraries provide, which in addition to lending out books, magazines, CDs and DVDs, includes computer and Internet access, a plethora of reference materials, and resources for job hunting — some of which are available through online access, and said making access easier for young people will get them engaged in reading and learning more.
Snyder discussed regional transportation, but said he’d like to take it off the Mackinac conference’s “recurring list.”
“We’re not done with that yet,” Snyder said. “We’ve got it in the legislature, so it’s in process. In a perfect world, we would have had that done.”
Asked how close we are to having a regional transportation system within the next five years, Snyder said he believes we’re making progress.
“I think we just have to go through the normal legislative process, and you run into challenges there,” he said.
With respect to the future of Detroit, Snyder said the city needs to go back to doing what it does best — making thing and exporting goods.
“The ‘imported from Detroit’ line is a fabulous visual for where the city’s going,” he said.
Snyder also said it’s about making Detroit a magnet for young people, and that the neighborhoods have to be part of the equation.
For decades, Detroit has been defined by the auto industry. Snyder said the industry remains very important, and is on a parallel path with the state in many respects.
“There’s a symbiotic relationship,” he said. “So it’s not two separate tracks, it’s like they’re interwoven.”