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Wednesday, 04 December 2013 22:23

Q&A: Rich Studley, Michigan Chamber of Commerce

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Rich Studley Rich Studley COURTESY PHOTO

The Michigan Chamber Foundation, an arm of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce that conducts research and policy studies, recently put out its second annual survey on the state’s economic competitiveness. The study, conducted by economists from Rutgers University, Central Michigan University and led by Northwood University’s Dr. Timothy Nash, showed an overall improvement in the state’s standing when compared with the rest of country. However, the results also suggest the state has a lot of work ahead in continuing to climb up the ranks. MiBiz spoke with Rich Studley, president and CEO of the Michigan Chamber, about the challenges ahead and the bright spots in Michigan’s economy.

The new survey shows Michigan improved overall, but the state still sits just above the bottom 10 when compared to other states. What do the results tell you?

It’s only the second year that the Michigan Chamber Foundation has done this study. … The good news is that the overall ranking improved significantly from 47th in the country in 2012 to 39th in 2013. So there is good news in this study about areas where Michigan’s economy is already competitive with other states. For example, in state debt and taxation, we rank 14th highest in the country. Another is the regulatory environment, where we rank 26th. The goal is to be best in the country or a top ten state.

What’s your primary takeaway from this report?

States will move up and down in these rankings, and that depends not only on what we’re doing but what other states are doing. We don’t operate in a vacuum and it’s important for the general public to understand that being economically competitive is a constant challenge that we have to focus on year in and year out. Once you stop getting better, you start to fall behind.

The governor continues touting the state’s comeback, but what are business leaders saying about the recovery?

When I travel out of the state, I often get questions about Detroit. It’s my job to make people understand that beyond Detroit’s bankruptcy, there are good things happening everyday. Young people are moving into Detroit and occupancy rates for apartments are above 90 percent. But of course, we have to be pragmatic about our problems. That doesn’t mean changes are going to be easy or everyone will agree all the time on everything, but we have to emphasize the positive and be bold and move forward. I’m not overly idealistic, but I think we have a great future if we have the strength and courage to seize it — or we can be stuck in the past and complain about the problems. There is definitely still work to do. We still need a breakthrough on how to fix our roads. We haven’t got to where we want to be, but we’ll get there.

Workforce composition and cost as well as labor and capital formation hardly improved year-to-year and are still at the bottom of the rankings. What can the state do to get back on track?

If you look at labor and capital formation, we’re not nearly as competitive as we need to be, but the factors to consider there relate to employment growth, population growth and migration. The governor and legislative leaders are focusing on talent, making sure we have job opportunities for young people who graduate from high school or college. It’s important to remember for the first 10 years of this century, Michigan was on the decline. We were hit hard by the recession and our state lost almost 1 million people. It takes time to recover from that kind of economic setback. But in the last two years, we’ve seen growth in job creation in the private sector.

What other challenges are chamber members still struggling with?

What I’m hearing pretty consistently over the last few months is a tremendous amount of frustration and a tremendous amount of anger with Congress and the president. Economic or financial uncertainty is a jobs killer, and that kind uncertainty makes businesses reluctant to invest when they don’t know what the rules of the game will be. The implementation of Obamacare also has employers concerned about creating new jobs and what the cost is going forward.

What’s your prescription for how the state can continue to improve its competitiveness?

It’s important that employers and employees continue to participate in the legislative and political process and that we support candidates who push job creation. It’s important that the business community continues to play a positive and constructive role in the policy debate. Part of the message we are sharing with policy- and decision-makers in Lansing is that sometimes there isn’t a lot we can do about what’s going on in Washington. That’s why it’s important to work together in Lansing to do everything we can to focus on jobs and the economy to make Michigan as strong and independent as we can.

Read 2117 times Last modified on Wednesday, 04 December 2013 23:30

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