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Sunday, 20 December 2015 23:47

Q&A: Marie Briganti, President and CEO, Battle Creek Unlimited Inc.

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Marie Briganti Marie Briganti

An experienced economic developer and business leader, Marie Briganti accepted a leadership position at Battle Creek Unlimited in April. Briganti, who holds dual citizenship in the U.S. and Italy, previously managed the international business development program at the Michigan Economic Development Corp. She shared with MiBiz her outlook for the coming year.

Where do you see the economy going in 2016?

We believe the economy will strengthen throughout 2016. Even a rise in interest rates will not mitigate the forces of growth. Battle Creek Unlimited will be watching the situation with a change of government in Canada, the weakening Euro, and the continued, albeit slowed growth in Asia. Domestically, BCU expects to see a continuation of an active site selection climate.

What sets BCU apart in that process?

We will meet growing global company and industry needs better than most because our boards and our predecessors are long-term planners. Last month, we broke ground on an expansion of our highly successful Regional Manufacturing Technology Center by investing $2.75 million into tomorrow’s workforce. Whatever the crystal ball has in store for us, we’ll be ready.

What legislative issues would you like Gov. Snyder to champion in 2016?

Funding to repair Michigan roads and bridges, a state energy policy, and clarifications for personal property tax elimination.

Manufacturers and others repeatedly cite talent issues as one of their top challenges. What can the state do to help?

State government needs to replenish the K-12 pool in Michigan. The state should consider jumping in front of its competitors by being the first state to offer a free college education. Although Battle Creek has a great Legacy Scholars program that pays for two years of community college, the Kalamazoo Promise has demonstrated that their four-year college offer can help the local economy. The state is in a position to polish the Kalamazoo model and to offer a voucher to attend any of Michigan’s institutions of higher learning.

Besides K-12 and college programs, what else can be done?

The state needs to develop social and economic policies that reward family structures — all family structures. This means an intensification of the effort to drive educational attainment rates, strengthening laws that favor independent contractors — as in, trailing spouses — and push for a high technology entrepreneurial and employment exchange.

Based on your experience with previous economic cycles, when do you anticipate the next downturn for your industry will likely occur? What are you doing to prepare for it?

While we can argue that we have never fully recovered from the 2008 downturn, progress has been made. We will sustain our activity over the next three to five years by building fund balances and sharpening our sales strategy.

In the last downturn and during the recent recovery, Michigan leaders took steps to encourage economic diversification, yet the state remains heavily reliant on manufacturing and the automotive industry in particular. How would you assess the state’s prospects the next time the auto industry takes a dip?

The state’s fortunes continue to be disproportionately tied to the auto industry. Much of this is changing as the industry has globalized and new technology, such as autonomous cars, is being tested by non-automotive companies. Nonetheless, Michigan’s egg in the automotive basket is big enough that should the industry decline, it will hurt Michigan’s economy.

Granted, it’s an election year, but what could be done at the federal level to improve the business climate in 2016?

Tax reform is necessary at the federal level. Our current corporate income tax rate of 35 percent simply does not compete with the 15 percent offered by Canada. Moreover, the right kind of tax reform, which would free up cash reserves offshore, can bring close to $1 trillion in new investments in the U.S. economy.

What’s one thing you see happening that could surprise everyone in 2016?

It might surprise some, but we could see our Battle Creek EDGE program becoming a national model that removes barriers to employment and connects potentially qualified, albeit disadvantaged employees to the employers that need them.

Looking ahead to 2016, what keeps you up at night?

The low cost of energy is wonderful, but it cannot last.

Interview conducted and condensed by John Wiegand.

Read 2338 times Last modified on Monday, 28 December 2015 10:28

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