Michigan’s former Right-to-work law has always been about jobs. And at Southwest Michigan First, we believe the greatest force for change is a job. With a job, an individual can provide for themselves and their loved ones. Jobs and employment also can point someone’s life toward the positive and ensure the vibrancy of our region and state.
That’s why I felt compelled to submit testimony before the House Labor Committee in March about the importance of Right-to-work.
Site selectors consistently told us that being a RTW state made Michigan more competitive. They also told us that states without RTW laws are sometimes not even considered for further evaluation by companies. Without RTW, we could simply miss out on job creation opportunities.
Despite this overwhelming positive evidence, we faced an uphill battle. Still, it was essential for us to stand up for what we believed in and make our voices heard. Although the repeal was a setback, we know our region is incredibly resilient. Most importantly, we also realize Michigan still has a tremendously positive story to tell. It’s time to move forward and focus on those positive attributes to encourage new economic growth and development.
At Southwest Michigan First, we’re working with many partners to launch a Talent Attraction Campaign to help us move beyond RTW and attract new residents to all of SW MI – Berrien, Branch, Cass, Calhoun, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph and Van Buren. Going forward, our strategy is to not just think of ourselves as an economic development organization, but one that specializes in community development as well.
We believe three critical challenges stand in our way: a shortage of young adults moving to our region, a shortage of workers and a lack of ready-to-build-on industrial sites. Recruiting new talent while improving our current workforce also is critical.
Two innovative Michigan programs to strengthen our workforce include the Going PRO Talent Fund and Michigan Reconnect. Going Pro makes awards to employers to assist in training, developing and retaining current and newly hired employees. The Talent Fund has already helped about 170,000 Michigan workers gain new skills and is an asset when it comes to attracting new talent and job providers to Michigan.
Michigan Reconnect is a scholarship program that pays residents to attend their in-district community college tuition-free or offers a large tuition discount if they attend an out-of-district community college. The program supports Michigan’s goal to substantially increase the number of working-age adults with a skill certificate or college degree by 2030, which will help Michigan become a top 10 state.
We all want a more prosperous future for all Michiganders, and we’ll continue to roll up our sleeves and make positive change happen in the communities we proudly serve.
In closing, I’d also like to thank the West Michigan Policy Forum for their efforts to protect RTW, and for helping encourage economic development in West Michigan and beyond. Your decision to publicly thank Southwest Michigan First for our efforts was also greatly appreciated.
As we continue to work together to improve our regions, the RTW issue underscored the importance of contacting our state elected officials to ensure our voices are heard. To that end, I encourage people to contact your local legislator to urge them to approve policy initiatives that put the entire state of Michigan first.
by Jonas Peterson, Chief Executive Officer, Southwest Michigan First