I recently attended a presentation to Southwest Michigan First titled Growing Michigan Together by Hilary Doe, Chief Growth Officer for the state of Michigan. She is the first in the country with this title and her focus on growth is a significant initiative for the state’s leadership. After reflecting on the data and her presentation, it should be. Is Michigan growing? The short answer is no. Is that a problem? Yes. Can we do something about it? Yes.

After numerous events and thousands of surveys across the entire state with a special focus on those in the 18–34 age group, the bipartisan council created by the governor received some sobering feedback to go along with the data they collected. I don’t believe what they learned was necessarily new but more of a validation of what they already thought. First, Michigan has some real advantages. We have world-class higher education, a strategic location with natural resources, a dominant engineering workforce, diversity, a history of industrial might, a relatively low cost of living, and a relatively low tax burden (46 out of 50 combined state and local as a % of personal income). Eighty percent of survey respondents said they love the natural beauty most about living in Michigan.

The not so good news is that Michigan’s population has remained about 10 million since 1980. Since that time, the overall population has grown by 46.3%. Michigan also ranks 49 out of 50 states in people who live there but were not born there. Meaning, people who are born in Michigan tend to stay in Michigan, but people don’t necessarily move here and stay. Population declines threaten business attraction, erode local tax bases, and limit political influence.

As a result of a shrinking population, we are aging faster than the national average and our median household income is declining as a percent of US median household income, from approximately 117% in 1980 to about 91% today. Interestingly, 43 years ago, five of the ten metro areas with the highest average earnings in the US were in Michigan (Flint #2, Detroit-Warren-Dearborn #3, Midland #4, Saginaw #6, and Monroe #9).

We are also losing too many of our talented young people, failing to attract others from outside the state, as well as failing to prepare too many others. Michigan is a net importer of students to attend college, but a net exporter of college-educated talent, especially Black college graduates. Michigan ranks 33 and 34 in the nation respectively for associate and bachelor’s degree attainment and our population of adults 25+ with a bachelor’s degree or higher is 32% (US total is 36%). Our early education outcomes trail those of faster growing states. Sadly, only 33% of Michigan students are proficient in reading or math in the fourth and eighth grade. Faster growing peer states have higher educational attainment, growing median incomes, and communities that are magnets for talent. Finally, surveys indicated that improvements in infrastructure, transportation, and downtowns are priorities for talent.

The council’s workgroups provided recommendations focused on four themes: Jobs, Talent and People, Infrastructure and Places, and Pre K-12 Education and Higher Education. Their plan involves the following strategies:

  • Establish Michigan as the innovation hub of the midwest and America’s scale-up state.
  • Build a lifelong learning system focused on future-ready skills and competencies.
  • Create thriving, resilient communities that are magnets for young talent.

Success will not happen overnight. I view it like planting a tree. Today, we have a seedling in need of attention. With enough attention, care, and hard work, we will eventually have a beautiful strong vibrant productive tree. I am encouraged by Hilary Doe’s enthusiasm and the grit inherent in Michiganders. Hopefully this article plays a small part by helping to get the word out.