Think Tank Urges Growth in Knowledge Workers to Sustain Michigan’s Prosperity

One of the chief goals of UniverCities Connection is to give local students a reason to stay in Michigan after graduating. That’s a goal shared by Michigan Future Inc., an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit that has authored a number of reports on keeping youth here and recently released its third annual “Michigan’s Transition to a Knowledge-Based Economy” report. The assessment argues that we need to bolster the state’s high-education attainment industries: those where at least 30% of workers have a bachelor’s degree.

Pittsburgh: a model for economic restructuring?

Between 2001 and 2008, employment in Michigan’s low-education attainment industries plunged 13.7%, in consequence of the auto industry’s troubles. Yet the high-education attainment industries suffered a loss of less than 2%. For Michigan Future’s Lou Glazer, the lesson is clear: we need to support growth in those high-education attainment industries by building up their essential infrastructure, including schools, universities and livable places.

The report points to Pittsburgh as a potential model for the Detroit region. Despite the rapid collapse of the city’s dominant steel industry in the 1980s, it’s made a successful transition to the knowledge economy by building on the educational, financial and medical institutions that steel wealth created. While manufacturing is still an important component of the region’s economy, Pittsburgh’s no longer so bound to the sector. The metro area ranks as one of the nation’s more prosperous, and the city tops the national average in the proportion of citizens with a bachelor’s degree. Michigan Future argues from this example that deindustrialization need not mean the end of Michigan’s middle class, if we make the right decisions along the way.

So much for Arthur Pond’s 1940 assessment of the Motor City. “Fundamentally,” he wrote, “modern Detroit exists to build and sell motor cars, and once it quits doing that it will lose its chief reason for existence.” What do you think? Is Pittsburgh’s comeback a good model for us, and how would we go about making the shift beneficial for everyone? What new “reasons for existence” might Millennials have in mind?

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One Response to “Think Tank Urges Growth in Knowledge Workers to Sustain Michigan’s Prosperity”

  1. vbieberich Says:

    I strongly believe that the infrastructure left behind by the auto industry in Detroit will be the foundation for our transition to the new economy. We have the physical and human capital to be successful again, if we can figure out how to re-purpose it–and ourselves.

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