Lansing still gives Michigan small businesses a cold shoulder
You don’t have to be an economist or economic developer to know that many Michigan small businesses are struggling. Just walk down the main street of your town. Rising costs of goods sold or used to make products, along with a severe labor shortage, mean small businesses have been hit hard in the portfolio, forcing many to drastically reduce their hours or close shop completely. There are empty storefronts along shopping corridors in major cities and small towns across the state. Even traditionally prosperous city centers are not immune. On a recent visit to Ann Arbor’s historically 100% busy Main Street, I counted nearly a dozen empty storefronts along a three-block stretch. Even businesses that are open are grappling with continued work-from-home policies reducing their foot traffic and lunch crowds. What was Lansing’s response? A bipartisan group of lawmakers created a fund endowed with more than $1 billion…and quickly gave it to big manufacturers to encourage them to create low-wage production jobs. During this fairly quick process, a number of us (including some legislators) who understand that there are already hundreds of thousands of low-wage jobs available and unfilled in Michigan and that paying millions for Creating more was a bad idea, lawmakers pointed out that there were tens of thousands of small businesses in the state asking for help.
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These family businesses are responsible for almost half of the jobs in the state, but their impact is far greater than just jobs. They provide amenities and improve the quality of life for Michigan residents. Bustling shopping corridors and main streets make Michigan a place where people want to be and where their kids want to stay after graduation. The response from lawmakers was, “Be patient. We hear you and then we’ll do something for small businesses. Then they took a break and got into the campaign trail, leaving the soul of Michigan’s economy and community in a pickle. Last month, citing a new opportunity to land a battery production plant, lawmakers quickly came together and threw in hundreds of millions more to create jobs that pay below the median household income in Michigan.
As small businesses have to be patient, politicians are rushing to spend fortunes of taxpayer dollars on projects that grab headlines but offer few quality jobs, which generally lower living standards in the country. ‘State. It’s an election year, so political candidates love having talking points about how they’re creating jobs and making Michigan more competitive. But as informed voters, it’s our job to hold their feet up and ask them to explain why they’re prioritizing jobs that pay less than $20 an hour when the streets of our centers -Cities are riddled with vacant storefronts.Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposed a plan nearly a year ago to use federal covid-19 relief funds to help small businesses and fill our commercial hallways with amenities that improve residents’ lives, but the legislature has failed. never even held a hearing on it. The Small Business SmartZone plan would provide direct technical assistance to all businesses in the state, connecting them with local coaches who can help them better reach their customers, improve their frontages and patios, build their e-commerce and getting more funding to stabilize. and grow.
This would create new restaurants, services and retail options while generating thousands of jobs in our local communities, making them more walkable and attractive to current and new residents. Best of all, it costs just a fraction of what it takes to provide incentives for a single new production facility. The state already provides this kind of support to tech-focused businesses, but has historically ignored the rest. It’s time for Lansing to show he cares about ALL Michigan businesses and put his money in his mouth. So when a candidate asks you to vote this election season, tell them to support Michigan small businesses first.
Ned Staebler is Vice President of Economic Development at Wayne State University and President and CEO of TechTown, a Detroit-based business incubator and accelerator.