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Mackinac Island

It is critical for Michigan to become a hub of mobility and connectivity if it’s going to keep up with the new economy. These emerging concepts — and the technology bringing them to life — are already transforming Detroit’s bread-and-butter automotive industry.

Connectivity is rightly a main theme at this year’s Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference, and a testament of its importance to Michigan’s present and future economy.

But connectivity is related to more than the auto industry. It is spilling over into other sectors as well. As Gov. Rick Snyder said Wednesday at the conference, this represents both an opportunity and a threat. But Michigan is up to the challenge.

The state must stay ahead of Silicon Valley in the contest for top ideas, talent and partnership opportunities with companies — many of them still startups — fundamentally changing the automotive industry.

The state has put muscle behind this transformation. Planet M has broken ground on the American Center for Mobility, and Snyder has created an advisory panel to guide progress on mobility issues.

But policy recommendations from that council won’t come until March.

In the meantime, the Legislature should maintain a hands-off approach to these evolving technologies and the industries involved. It must regulate with a light touch so that driverless vehicle technology and mobility solutions can grow naturally. This could also encourage developers to invest here rather than Silicon Valley.

Already Michigan leads the nation in policies that clear the road for self-driving vehicles. And the state should be a strong partner with the federal government as regulations on autonomous vehicles continue to develop.

Only a handful of other states have legalized the testing of autonomous vehicles on the road, while Michigan allows fleets and trucks to test new technology.

The state must also continue to work with General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and FCA US to help them create jobs of tomorrow right here at home.

Which leads to another challenge in the new world of connectivity: finding people to fill those high-skilled jobs. Closing the skills gap — helping students of all ages and from all backgrounds access training for science, technology and engineering jobs — is critical.

Another concept related to big data could also help move Michigan, particularly Detroit, forward. Future communities will require a digital platform upon which to build.

Data from new Detroit maps and from citizens’ experiences are already helping improve city services and residents’ daily lives. Big data and the connectivity it promotes will affect everything from health care to infrastructure. With increased data sharing, policymakers will also need to ensure individuals’ privacy and civil liberties are protected.

The world of connectivity is Michigan’s for the taking. The state’s leaders shouldn’t let up.

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