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K-12 and Workforce Education Key Factors in Region Needing Improvement

Michigan State University Planners Help Plot Strategy for Knowledge Economy

March 20, 2004       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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Frank Starkweather and Sue Fortune introduce the MSU team of planners at the Knowledge Economy workshop at the Horizons Center in Saginaw.

      If we don't get smarter, we get poorer.

      That's the brutally frank message of Michigan State University researchers who released a landmark study of "The Knowledge Economy" last Friday, March 19, in Saginaw.

      In a workshop sponsored by the 14-county East Central Michigan Planning and Development Regional Commission, a team of MSU professors introduced the concept of the Knowledge Economy and related data indicators for the East Central region and led a discussion about planning for future regional economic development. Sue Fortune, executive director, and Frank Starkweather, community and economic development program manager, organized and facilitated the session, attended by about 200 area governmental, business andcivic leaders.

      The main issues identified for the Bay-Midland-Saginaw and surrounding region, not surprisingly, are K-12 and workforce education. For example, in Bay County 14,000 adults, or about 14 percent of the population, read at no higher than the first grade level; in Saginaw County corresponding figures are 42,000 adults and 20 percent of the population.

      "If current trends continue, this region will likely fall farther behind in Knowledge Economy occupations," said Mark I. Wilson, another MSU planner.

            The official description of the Knowledge Economy is "the application of new methods or technologies to the production or distribution of goods or services."

      The Global Knowledge Economy "relies increasingly on technology and knowledge as factors of production and wealth creation in addition to labor and capital," said Prof. Wilson. "Technology and knowledge are transforming wealth creation work from physically-based functions to knowledge-based functions."

      The MSU planners said the day is coming when Internet use is pervasive. Even now, half the people of Michigan are on line everyday. Ironically, the highest Internet usage is in the Upper Peninsula.

      "The region is at best in the middle of the pack in Knowledge Economy Index rankings," said Kenneth E. Corey, of the MSU Urban and Regional Planning Program.

      Robert Johnson, representative of the Michigan Department of Labor, said Gov. Jennifer Granholm is concerned about the fact that the state is losing talented people ages 24-35. Businesses will locate where the workers are, and workers gravitate to places that have a high quality of life, vibrancy and tolerance of diversity, he said, restating the "cool cities" concept.

      What is the solution to improving the region's base in the Knowledge Economy? The MSU team suggested a long term commitment to improving K-12 education. They pointed to Ireland, historically a desperately poor country. Beginning about 20 years ago, Ireland concentrated resources on K-12. Today Ireland's booming Knowledge Economy has propelled it to a higher average income than England.

      "Development of human capital will determine much of the competitiveness in the global economy," said Rex LaMore, state director of the MSU Community and Economic Development Program.

      State Rep. Joseph Rivet, D-Bay City, commented: "In Lansing we get mixed messages; how can we improve education andreduce taxes at the same time?"###

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Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at

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