Michigan Chronicle’s Pancakes & Politics Panel Talk Economic Viability  

Michigan Chronicle’s Pancakes & Politics panel included Jeff Donofrio, president, and CEO, Business Leaders for Michigan, left, Maureen Donohue-Krauss, president and CEO, Detroit Regional Partnership, second from left, Nicole Sherard-Freeman, group executive, Job, Economy, and Detroit at Work, City of Detroit, third from left, and Kevin Johnson, president, and CEO, Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, DEGC, right, at the Detroit Athletic Club on Thursday, April 21.

Photo by Monica Morgan


Where does Michigan rank economically across the nation as a Top Ten state and how does the City of Detroit figure in with these statistics as poverty rates continue to climb?

Business Leaders for Michigan, BLM, a private, non-profit organization in Detroit, released a Top Ten Benchmarks analysis where Michigan ranks 29th in the country. Utah, Texas, and Oregon are among the Top Ten states according to BLM statistics.

Ranking metrics include labor force participation, educational attainment, poverty, and business climate perception; the poverty category, among others, were recently added to the list.

Michigan ranks 34th in poverty levels nationwide. According to talkpoverty.org, that is a percentage of people who had incomes levels below the poverty line of $25,926 (for a family of four) in 2019.

If Michigan were performing as a “Top Ten” State there would be 350,000 more people in the workforce; nearly $10,000 more Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita and $11,631 more annual income per household, per BLM findings.

Michigan Chronicle’s 17th annual Pancakes & Politics four-person panel discussion unpacked these findings and more on Thursday, April 21 at the Detroit Athletic Club during its second installment (of a four-part series) before about 300 attendees.

The live event highlights issues of economic impact over breakfast with local political, business, and community leaders.

From poverty solutions and bridging the gap in workforce development to providing K-12 pathways while ensuring that the state remains relevant, panelists and thought leaders shared ideas and hopes for a better fiscal future right in their own backyard.

The panel, led by host, President and CEO of Ignition Media Group Dennis Archer Jr., included Nicole Sherard-Freeman, group executive, Job, Economy, and Detroit at Work, City of Detroit; Jeff Donofrio, president, and CEO, Business Leaders for Michigan; Kevin Johnson, president, and CEO, Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, DEGC, and Maureen Donohue-Krauss, president and CEO, Detroit Regional Partnership.

Hiram Jackson, chief executive officer of Real Times Media (RTM) and Michigan Chronicle publisher, said that a cross-section of people in the room that day are talking about relevant problems and solutions.

“We are going to talk about a lot of issues today – job growth, tax reform. All of the things that can make (Michigan) a state (that is) great.”

He added that he wants to hear not only about big industry companies coming to the state but also about areas like Inkster and Highland Park, where he grew up.

“I want to hear about … people who look like me,” he said adding that he was “shocked” by poverty rate statistics after doing research.

“In the past, poverty was not on the list of indicators to determine if we could become a Top Ten state – I noticed it is a new indicator,” he said adding that how can Michigan become a Top Ten state if half of the residents are living in poverty. “Another stat that floored me is how many working people are in poverty. … That is the context in which I will be listening to this conversation.”

Archer laid the foundation and asked the panel how Michigan ranks among other state and what it needs to do to be a Top Ten state economically.

“Give me a single factor or what most important factor needs to be addressed?” Archer asked.

Johnson said that when he was based in Atlanta, Georgia (prior to his role at the DEGC) he worked at Invest Atlanta, leading an economic development program for the city, which created jobs and generated billions of dollars in new capital investment. He said during the event that the Peach State did not look at Michigan as a viable contender.

“We didn’t see Michigan as a competitor at all,” Johnson said to the audible surprise of many audience members. “Now that’s very sobering. …in my opinion, Michigan is a mid-tier state. It’s not where it should be – it punches way below its weight. You’re a heavyweight and we fight like a featherweight … there is a big old fist in Hart Plaza that says so.”

Johnson added that one of the contributing factors is talent retention.

“We are like a production factory for the workforce for everybody else,” Johnson said.

Donohue-Krauss said that in her role, she represents Detroit and 11 counties and Detroit is at the “heart of it.”

“Detroit is what people want to know (about),” she said adding that the city is their “calling card.”

She echoed Johnson’s points and said that there is some modesty and complacency happening as the state sometimes seemingly rests on its laurels.

“(We’re) letting everyone else tell our story,” the Detroit native said adding that she’s been to countries like India and China and officials remark to her that they want to formulate Detroit’s success in their own regions. “We need some of that enthusiasm and … I believe in our strengths here.”

Sherard-Freeman said that there is an “interesting contradiction” amid a booming metropolitan city like Detroit.

“At least in Detroit, there is no other place you will find as many cranes in the air or many construction boots on the ground (which) mean more jobs are coming … across so many sections,” she said adding that urban and rural areas still need help. “When you look across rural areas there is no question that the city is a contradiction; the state is a contradiction and so many solutions many of us have tried particularly in Detroit (can) apply across the state.”

She added that education reform needs to be actualized, too.

“What we owe residents of Detroit and across state … (is) solutions for legacy residents …. adults who have been left behind,” she said.

Donofrio said that in 2009 at the start of the rankings, Michigan was actually lower on the list hovering around the 49th state in terms of economic resilience to be higher on the list at 29th.

“That is a lot of progress,” Donofrio said. “Many people in and out of this room did a lot of things to make that happen.”

Closing gaps and advocating for a more equitable workforce is a start to reducing the low labor rates in the state and connecting the dots for employers looking for employees.

“People are looking for jobs,” he said.

During the event, a video report by Digital Anchor Andre Ash featured Detroiters talking about what Michigan can do to get on top.

Many in the interviews said that the answer lies in decreasing homelessness and bringing in big business while investing in Detroit where a talented workforce already exists.

“If we come together as a whole nobody can defeat us,” an interviewee said.

Initially introduced in 2006, the Pancakes & Politics series has continued to be a staple for the Black community, providing a platform for change-makers, influencers, and government leaders to voice community concerns, share solutions, and bring about change regionally.

The remaining forums are for May 19, and June 16 and will host an audience of invited business, political, and community leaders. They will broadcast each forum for the public later — stay tuned to MichiganChronicle.com for broadcast dates.




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