Matt McCauley: Exceptional people are the goal Business

Matt McCauley

Experience, skills and education are conducted at the individual level. Only people and people run businesses and build communities. This has always been true. However, the traditional approach to economic development in Michigan and across the country is to focus retention and attraction activities on business alone.

As it was originally written three years ago, I believe there is a strong argument that there should be more local and state policies focused on highly qualified people.

In addition to our very rewarding efforts to attract and retain business, Michigan would benefit from a broader talent-focused strategy that seeks to grow, retain, and attract the “best and smartest” people to increase our current flow of talent, business makeup and entrepreneurial potential. In this way, I would say that business activity and per capita income will increase along with the overall economic sustainability of our communities.

However, we are currently in a state of significant disruption, if not decline, in the workforce. At the very least, the availability of labor has declined dramatically in recent years. One key indicator that best encapsulates this is that Michigan holds the nation’s 10th highest average age, and as such its workforce is shrinking. This trend will not change any time soon and is becoming more complicated in northwestern Michigan due to population growth, which is largely determined by seasonal residents and retirees.

Historically, any prosperous community and successful business is based on having a critical mass of highly skilled and hardworking people. Let’s not allow northwestern Michigan to be less than exceptional in this regard. Instead, let’s develop personalities and look for people who can build businesses and communities with the same passion as our predecessors.

In addition, extend the definition of “high qualification” and do not allow this title to be awarded only to those with a secondary education. The economic potential of much-needed carpenters, electricians, plumbers, digital operators (CNCs), welders and truck drivers – to name a few – far exceeds that of several higher degrees that are being completed today.

As the economy and labor market continue to grow in this aging world after COVID, our strategies must now support both workers and employers. Unfortunately, too many believe that the workforce development is just a collection of government-sponsored job training programs. This is a key feature of the system, but it is only part of the 21st century’s ideal approach to developing, retaining and attracting talent.

Workforce development must also be an integral part of our education and economic development systems in order to be truly successful. In addition, talent development and acquisition should be seen as a shared responsibility between the public and private sectors.

The future of our economy will undoubtedly be intertwined with the quantity and quality of the workforce. In addition, as we have been taught for the last two years, our business and workforce need to be more flexible and sustainable than ever. We must recognize the importance of adaptive economic development strategies that emphasize talent as the basis for business and community success. We must also encourage people to build strong career paths and networks that turn northwestern Michigan into a place where talented, creative, and hard-working people choose to live and grow.

Closing the long-running Prairie Home Companion radio station, Garrison Kayler always said, “This is the news from Lake Wabegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average.” I’ve always liked that, but that’s why time and place instead, I would suggest, “This is the news from northwestern Michigan, a place like no other where exceptional people are sought and found.”

Matt McCauley is the CEO of Networks Northwest.

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