"I'll be paying close attention to the ideas that businesses are putting forward," Gov. Jennifer Granholm said of the event.
Governors set to tackle hard issues
On the agenda of meeting in Michigan: Global competition
July 20, 2007
Thirty-five governors in the Traverse City area for the weekend all want stronger economic development in their states. Sometimes they are even bidders for the same companies, competing with tax breaks and other incentives.
But as the four-day National Governors Association conference begins today, the chief executives will try to set those rivalries aside to confront a different rival -- international competition.
"The idea is not so much about Michigan versus Indiana or Michigan versus Colorado in terms of economic development, but Michigan and Indiana and Colorado versus China or India," said Earl Ryan of the Livonia-based Citizens Research Council of Michigan. "From that perspective, there's some good rationale to put their heads together. They may be trying to attract business for themselves, but at the same time, the whole country is in competition with the rest of the world."
When Gov. Jennifer Granholm leads a session on global competitiveness Sunday, she'll be listening to business and government leaders as much as talking about what Michigan has done to diversify its faltering economy.
"I'll be paying close attention to the ideas that businesses are putting forward," Granholm told listeners Saturday in her weekly radio address.
Michigan is in a unique position to take the advice from business and government leaders. The decline of the auto industry has left the state reeling. Earlier this week, the state reported its unemployment rate had increased to 7.2%, highest in the nation and well above the national average of 4.5%. The state ranks third in mortgage foreclosures, according to a July report, and is the only state to have lost jobs in 2006.
"There are definitely things we can learn from other states on what they've done to help make their cities competitive," said Bill Rustem of the Lansing-based Public Sector Consultants.
Rustem, who'll be attending the conference today, cited efforts in Minneapolis and St. Paul to market the Twin Cities jointly for development, Seattle's pitching itself as a welcome home for immigrants and Traverse City's push to engineer a long-term development plan for the five counties surrounding the unofficial capital of northern Michigan.
"Traverse City gets it," Rustem said. "They've created the type of region that is competitive for young entrepreneurs. They're attracting people who understand that they can sit on the beach with their laptops."
The governors will talk about other weighty issues this weekend at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, including global warming, education standards and Internet safety.
On climate change, Granholm and governors from other major automotive states are expected to engage their colleagues on the push in Congress to require much higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks. Michigan representatives argue the changes could further cripple the domestic auto industry.
On the official agenda, the governors also will discuss efforts to make medical records more portable through technology and improving math and science curriculums.
Unofficially and behind closed doors, the governors are expected to tackle a federal mandate to create an identification card for all U.S. citizens. It's better known as the Real ID card, which will be required to travel, drive and do any official financial business.
The states were supposed to have the cards ready to issue next year, but pending federal rules are expected to extend the deadline to 2013.
"But that may not be enough time to move 245 million people through the system," said David Quam, director of federal relations for the NGA. "The governors have been looking for reasonable solutions and a good financial partner to share in some of the costs."
The program is expected to cost at least $100 million nationwide. Michigan's cost isn't available yet, but more than 7 million people will have to get new driver's licenses or state identification cards.
Outside the official program, Michigan and Traverse-area officials get a chance to show off the region and state's best side with a classic car show, beach party and golfing, exploring the uniquely Michigan Dennos Museum and a getting a few sips from local vineyards.
"This is like the Super Bowl of government. It is an opportunity to showcase Michigan not just to the other states, but the business leaders who are there, too," Rustem said. "All of those people will go back to their states and talk about what they saw in Michigan. Right now, the national impression of the state is not very good, and this is an opportunity to change that impression."
Contact KATHLEEN GRAY at 313-223-4407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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