A few weekends from now, Michigan's colleges and universities will begin sending another wave of graduates into the world, ensuring that the Big Mitten's largest export remains its college graduates.
Half of the state's best and brightest aren't likely to be living here a year from now, according to a survey conducted recently by Michigan Future Inc. They're mostly unmarried, mostly childless, mostly mortgage-free and almost certainly staring at a flatlining state economy bereft of leadership.
Any reason to think their rate of flight will slow any time soon? Nope. Nor should it -- and I say that as the father of a high school senior heading off to college this fall.
Nor will it change much if the focus of groups like Michigan Future, based in Ann Arbor, the Granholm administration and other do-gooders insist on treating the symptoms with ad hoc economic incentives and government programs -- "Cool Cities" and "MichAgain" and http://www.interninmichigan.com">www.interninmichigan.com -- instead of attacking Michigan's wasting disease.
It's jobs, people, that draw college grads by enabling them to pay the bills and create growing communities. It's building the kind of vibrant, competitive, diverse and business-friendly economic culture that is likely to create jobs.
Except we mostly do the opposite -- insist on propping up a 20th-century industrial model dominated by labor, traditional management and the undereducated. Then we wonder why Frankie and Johnnie are decamping directly to Chicago's Lincoln Park from East Lansing.
We craft effective incentives for the film industry that rebate up to 42 percent of expenses to those who invest here, but keep sticking it to existing businesses with a Michigan Business Tax and its 22-percent surcharge. We have a competitive, flat 4.35-percent income tax, but intensify talk about moving to a graduated income tax.
We maintain the fiction of "cool cities" and draw comparisons to Chicago, New York, even North Carolina's Research Triangle, but watch as our core city slides into an abyss and say it doesn't matter outside Detroit. The schools, rife with corruption, are failing their kids and the taxpayers. The City Council is a joke. And many of the suburbs have their own struggles.
Don't see any of that in one of the state's Jeff Daniels ads, do you? But the state's college students have access to it every day, in the newspapers, on TV, on Google and on YouTube -- and most of it is embarrassing.
Cool cities don't mean diddly if you can't find work, if your city leaders are obsessed with petty squabbles (Cobo Center), scandals (text-message-gate) and self-important preening. With a governor and Legislature gyrating over how to spend federal stimulus dollars even as they stall to ensure inevitable structural reform lands in the laps of their successors, why would promising young minds stay?
They wouldn't if their minds were truly promising. They are, which is why so many of them are leaving; they can read, make rational economic decisions and so can their parents.
Cool cities and building a culture "where talent wants to live," as Michigan Future's president, Lou Glazer, argues in an op-ed published Thursday in The Detroit News, can't counteract major employers in free fall. Even if it could, what would be the attraction of going to work for a company labeled as failing by the president of the United States and denounced by more than a few members of Congress?
All of these questions answer themselves. For decades, Michigan enjoyed rising per capita incomes, swelling municipal budgets and improving services because jobs and the tax revenue generated by them made it all possible.
Hundreds of thousands of those jobs are gone forever, as all but the most willfully deluded now acknowledge. Tens of thousands of college grads will be gone forever, too, so long as those who pass for leaders refuse to honestly answer why.
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