Report: Boost immigration to aid Michigan’s economy

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Mackinac Island — Michigan should encourage immigration, celebrate diversity and improve quality of life in local communities in a bid to boost the economy and reverse sluggish population growth, according to a new report from a business panel appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder.

The Building the 21st Century Economy Commission report concludes that Michigan’s aging and declining population is straining state and local budgets while reducing the available labor pool.

Visibly encouraging immigration, supporting transition services and developing messaging in coordination with business and universities can help reverse that trend, according to the report, which also suggests the state recognize cultural holidays and encourage tolerance by all residents.

“Increasingly, economic success will require connecting with other nations, and diversity is seen as a desirable asset,” the report says. “Michigan can prepare for a successful future by engaging with and welcoming all individuals, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or national background.”

Making Michigan a more welcoming state is among a dozen recommendations in the far-reaching report released by Snyder and commission members at the Mackinac Policy Conference, an annual gathering hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Snyder, who created an Office for New Americans in 2014, said Michigan wants immigrants.

“You need to recognize that as a wonderful opportunity, because it brings diversity, it brings new thought processes and one of the strengths of this report and the world is it’s become more and more global,” the Republican governor said. “If we can be more global ourselves and learn from one another, that just puts us in a stronger, better position.”

Snyder created the commission last summer, tasking it with creating comprehensive vision for Michigan’s future. It includes 11 members appointed by the governor, five appointed by Republican and Democratic leaders in the state Legislature and five department directors or designees.

The report recommends strategies for attracting a talented work force, investments in public infrastructure, building a more efficient business climate and improving quality of life. Some are decidedly long-term, and Snyder acknowledged some goals may not be achievable until long after he leaves office at the end of 2018.

The state with the best talent wins the 21st century, commission members said, adding that the state should help more young people earn college or other post-secondary degrees and grow the population by attracting talent from all countries and other states.

The unemployment rate for Michigan residents with only a high school degree is three times higher than those with a bachelor’s degree, and they earn nearly 50 percent less, according to U.S. Census Bureau data cited by the commission.

“The single most effective thing that individuals can do to increase their economic outlook is to increase their level of education, says the report, which recommends the state make bachelor degrees affordable for students “who demonstrate merit” and generally control tuition costs and debt burdens.