Our Editorial: Biz leaders aim to keep forward progress

The Detroit News

One of the potential casualties of the ongoing Flint water crisis is the state’s rapidly improving image as a good place to live and do business. So it’s welcome news that Michigan’s business leaders are pushing aggressively ahead with policy initiatives to make this a Top 10 state.

Making the necessary changes to restore public health in Flint must be Michigan’s top priority.

Business Leaders for Michigan Tuesday unveiled its latest wish list to keep the state on track for meeting that goal by 2020. The Building a New Michigan plan calls for several new steps in 2016, including:

■Strengthening the state’s fiscal stability. The group is calling for reductions in state and local debt to improve bond ratings and make more resources available for essential services. This will be challenging in light of the massive amount of funds now needed for Flint and Detroit Public Schools; it will require steep belt tightening elsewhere, but it is essential.

■Investing in key assets, particularly talent. The growth in high skill, high-tech jobs is outpacing the state’s ability to fill them with qualified candidates. Michigan must get more workers trained for the new economy. That will require more aggressive adult training programs, but also a vast improvement in the public schools statewide.

■Dominating the next generation of automotive technology, particularly autonomous and connected vehicles. The state must make itself very competitive with Silicon Valley for the research and development that will produce the cars of the future.

■Step up business attraction efforts. The group is urging a statewide unified strategy for drawing investment.

That last item is made much more complicated by the Flint situation.

One of the biggest assets in attracting job creators to Michigan has been Gov. Rick Snyder, who, as a successful business executive, spoke the language of corporate investors. He also has put in place a broad, business-friendly agenda.

But Flint is now demanding Snyder’s full attention. It also has hurt his reputation nationally. Business leaders must calm potential job creators and assure that the reform agenda is still paying dividends.

The business leaders must talk loudly about the actions being undertaken in Flint to fix the problem, and assure potential investors that the water problems are isolated to one community. Pure, abundant water is Michigan’s greatest asset. Everyone must be mindful of maintaining confidence in that resource.

Beyond that, any progress made in fixing the Flint situation — including last Friday’s hopeful news that filters are starting to reduce lead in the water to acceptable levels — must be trumpeted.

Flint is a challenge, and that the crisis was allowed to unfold because of government failure at nearly every level is an embarrassment.

But it doesn’t have to derail Michigan’s positive trends in terms of job creation and the attractiveness of its business climate. This is still a good place to do business.