Snyder Creates New State Dept. of Talent and Economic Development

As its economy recovers from a decade-long slump, Michigan has become a place where the need for talent far outpaces the local workforce available to fill all of the open positions—nearly 82,000 job openings are currently listed on the state’s Pure Michigan Talent Connect website.

The need for tech talent is particularly keen, and it’s a situation often lamented by startup founders and other members of Michigan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

To that end, Governor Rick Snyder today announced that he will issue an executive order creating a new state department to help cultivate the kind of workforce Michigan companies need to grow and prosper. Called the Department of Talent and Economic Development, the organization will oversee the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), the Michigan Strategic Fund, the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency, the Michigan Workforce Development Agency, and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

Steve Arwood, the MEDC’s chief operating officer, will head the new department. Xconomist Michael Finney, who currently leads the MEDC, will step down and take a position in the governor’s office. Stephanie Comai, who now heads the state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency, will head the newly created Michigan Talent Investment Agency, which will also operate under the auspices of the new department.

Finney says the governor’s decision to place a heightened focus on talent is part of the state’s overall economic recovery strategy. He praised Michigan’s talent base, particularly in engineering. Michigan colleges and universities are producing plenty of tech talent, he says—the trick is getting new graduates to take jobs in Michigan after they finish school. Finney says there’s also a “tremendous” demand for other skilled trades useful in advanced manufacturing.

“We have a great manufacturing legacy in the state, but there’s an ever-increasing demand for that kind of talent,” he adds.

As part of his new role in the governor’s office, Finney says he’ll work to support initiatives like the Community Ventures program, which helps unskilled workers and structurally unemployed people in Flint, Saginaw, Pontiac, and Detroit find jobs. According to the Community Ventures website, the program helps provide steady jobs for hard-to-employ workers; addresses key barriers to employment such as lack of education or a criminal record; offers mentoring and financial literacy assistance; and helps workers develop a solid employment history. The program accomplishes this through “matchmaking,” regional partnerships, employer grants in the form of wage reimbursements to cover training and hiring costs, and support for social enterprises that improve employee engagement and productivity.

Finney calls the Community Ventures program, which he developed while leading the MEDC, a project he’s very passionate about—in part because he believes it’s easily scalable to other cities and even other states. He says the program has proven to be a success, and the governor is eager to replicate its results across both urban and rural parts of Michigan. (Employers who are interested in participating in the program can register online.)

“Community Ventures has the potential to solve generational poverty by creating jobs that are sustainable and allow people to be much more independent,” Finney says. “It taps into other social services programs, but it’s intended to create self-sustaining individuals. We’re focusing on the scale-up plan by reaching out to other potential partners, like foundations, for support.”

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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