Detroit Regional Chamber > Detroiter Magazine > From the President: Great Initiatives Alone Won’t Address Michigan’s Biggest Opportunities

From the President: Great Initiatives Alone Won’t Address Michigan’s Biggest Opportunities

May 24, 2023 sandy baruah

Sandy K. Baruah | President and Chief Executive Officer, Detroit Regional Chamber

The theme of the 2023 Mackinac Policy Conference, “the Power of &,” brought to us by Matt Elliott and his colleagues at Bank of America could not be better suited for the pivotal moment Michigan finds itself.

The confluence of several factors made “the Power of &” not just a Conference theme, but rather a way of thinking that must guide our approach as we move to address Michigan’s tremendous opportunities and challenges.

Michiganders Sour on College, Not All That Interested in ICE to EV Shift

  1. Recent statewide polling by the Detroit Regional Chamber shows that Michiganders are sour on the value of a college degree– or frankly any post-secondary credential. While stock in a college education continues to decline nationally, Michigan has significantly less faith in a college degree than the national average. While college is not for everyone and many paths exist to a prosperous career other than a traditional four-year degree, the ever-increasing complexity of the global economy means that technical skills will have increasingly shorter shelf lives. But the development of life-long learning skills, the ability to reason, comprehend, communicate and problem solve (both individually and interactively in groups) will become increasingly necessary. So, while not everyone needs to go to college, the prime elements of an in-person college experience are even more relevant as we progress into the future.
  2. Chamber polling also shows a surprising lack of interest in Michigan’s transition to the next-generation of mobility– including the global shift from internal combustion engine (ICE) power to electrification. Certainly, EVs are not for everyone today and the technology and supporting infrastructure are at sophomore-levels of development at best. But the trends are clear– the combination of smartly growing consumer demand, ever improving product offerings and global government actions– are fueling a significant shift to EV adoption. For Michigan to be one of the handful of leaders globally in the mobility industry of the future, we can’t have a population that is dismissive of the seismic industrial shift.

The Critical Role of “The Power of &” in Addressing Our Challenges

Here is how “the Power of &” will be critical in addressing these challenges as we seek to capitalize on our opportunities:

  • We need to harness the power of existing entities and initiatives focused on building a culture of post-secondary certificate and degree attainment. While multiple efforts exist in this area, we need leadership to better align these efforts under a common strategic frame to accelerate results– we need to make one-plus-one equal more than two.
  • We need to learn to focus on the positive. The days of telling hard-working Michiganders that didn’t go to college that they did something wrong need to be over. We must frame the opportunities for Michiganders not only as positive, but wholly consistent with Michigan’s past– leaders in mobility, technology and manufacturing. We are not asking Michiganders to be something we are not.
  •  Finally, we must put all this work in a strategic frame– set a culture in Michigan that focuses on our positive opportunities and ensures that everyone has a pathway to succeed. Individual programs and initiatives are critical, but they must be reoriented to not be standalone efforts, but rather key elements of a broader organized strategy.

This will be the only way to shift Michigan’s culture to embrace the exciting future to come.