Growing Michigan Together Council issues first report highlighting three key strategies

Members of Michigan State University's graduating class of 2023 attend the university's undergraduate commencement ceremony on May 5, 2023. (Andrew Roth|Michigan Advance)

By Kyle Davidson, Michigan Advance

The Growing Michigan Together Council, established earlier this year by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, has submitted its population growth strategy report, presenting the governor and the Legislature with methods to improve the state’s economic competitiveness and reverse shrinking population trends. 

In the report, the council identified key issues within the state including a lack of population growth — complicated by a lack of young people moving to or remaining in the state — contributing to a loss of tax revenue to fund schools, public amenities and quality of life within Michigan communities.

When comparing Michigan to states with other higher-growth states, the council noted the state was lagging on median income and educational attainment. 

Michigan has also spent significantly less than its peers on its infrastructure, the report noted. 

In order to address these structural challenges, the council proposed three interwoven strategies to promote growth in Michigan with each being tied to a goal. 

The first strategy seeks to establish Michigan as the innovation hub of the Midwest and America’s Scale-up state. This includes supporting entrepreneurs and businesses to grow and create high-wage, knowledge-based jobs. It also includes investing in regionally driven innovation districts like Grand Rapids’ Medical Mile to attract more talent and support knowledge-based business creation and growth in addition to thriving communities and growth in median income. 

The goal tied to this strategy is to bring Michigan from No. 34 in median incomes in the U.S. into the top 10 states. 

Alongside establishing Michigan as an innovation hub, the council also said the state needs to build a lifelong learning system focused on future-ready skills and competencies. In implementing this strategy, the council aims to bring Michigan into the top ten states for postsecondary education attainment.

According to a statement from the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO), the strategy would include transforming the state’s education system to ensure accountability, adequate funding and support lifelong learning. The council also called on the state to commit to a “Michigan Education Guarantee” which would ensure all students in the state graduate with the competencies needed to be successful in their continued education and in the modern economy. 

The council also noted the need for more affordable and accessible higher education so Michigan residents have the opportunity to pursue a post-secondary education should they desire. 

The panel’s third strategy advises the governor and the Legislature to create thriving, resilient communities to attract young talent. This includes developing well-connected regional transit systems that allow residents to travel to work, school and access amenities. 

“Our premise is that by focusing on getting the fundamentals right — housing; transit; and climate-resilient, durable infrastructure — we can establish the foundation for which businesses and talent will seek to locate and drive further investment in thriving communities,” the council said in its report. 

The council also lists the state’s low cost of living compared to other states as an advantage to be maximized through a housing development strategy that supports employees growth and economic mobility as well as the lack of available and desirable housing. 

The goal of this strategy is to bring Michigan from 20th to the top 10 states for net talent migration. 

Growing Michigan Together Council chart

According to the report, the council’s timeline and the expertise of its members did not allow for an analysis of how the programs should be funded, instead recommending the governor, Legislature, or another oversight body with the expertise and capacity conduct a return-on-investment analysis to assess the potential financial impact of each recommendation.

“Growing our population is not an easy task. This report gives us a sense of what we’re up against as we work to attract and retain talent, and it gives us a roadmap on how we can work together to solve the challenges we face as a state,” said state Sen. Darrin Camilleri (D-Trenton), one of the members, in a statement.

Of the 21 voting members of the council, 19 voted in favor of submitting the report to Whitmer and the Legislature. Rep. Pauline Wendzel (R-Watervliet) was the sole vote against submitting the report, according to Gongwer Michigan

“The Governor’s Population Council report uses plenty of the latest buzzwords but lacks tangible strategies. Most of the recommendations are programs that already exist and simply need better execution by the governor as the Chief Executive,” Wendzel said in a statement. 

“Growing our state’s population is very serious and a challenge worth taking on headfirst. I appreciate the work the council did and support several of the recommendations, but with this report lacking in detail on how to execute the proposals, it’s fallen far short,” Wendzel said.

House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland) released a statement blasting the report.

“The council’s calls for expensive programs will come with billions of dollars in new taxes, proving that the governor’s whole point for the council was to give Democrats political cover for unpopular tax hikes. Of course, the commission didn’t offer any specific recommendations about which taxes to raise to pay for new spending, and Democrats wasted our entire $9 billion [budget] surplus before hearing from the council,” Hall said, referencing earlier criticisms that the commission would act as a “Trojan horse” for new taxes. 

In a statement, Whitmer expressed gratitude to the members of the council and its workgroups, which focused on PreK-12 education; higher education; jobs, talent, and people; and infrastructure and places.

“In the months ahead, I look forward to reviewing the council’s report in detail and working with my partners in the legislature on solutions to grow the economy and population. Our future is bright and I know we can keep getting things done to help anyone ‘make it’ in Michigan,” Whitmer said.

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