Spinal Column: Goodbye rust belt; welcome to the new ‘tech belt’

By Sen. Mike Kowall
15th Senate District

Several years ago, Michigan started coming out of the “Lost Decade” — a time in which our job numbers plummeted and residents fled the state. Today, as we look back at the beginning of that turnaround, we can count seven straight years of economic recovery.

More than 500,000 Michigan jobs have been added since 2010. That makes us the top Great Lakes state for job creation. In addition, Michigan is the number one state in the nation for creating manufacturing jobs. In May, the jobless rate came in at 4.2 percent — the lowest in nearly 17 years.

More people are finding work and calling Michigan home. Our turnaround has led to five consecutive years of population growth after years of decline. Michigan truly is the Comeback State, and people are beginning to return.

There is good reason to do so. Workers are earning more as personal income growth climbs and home values rise.

In Lansing, we finalized the state’s budget months ahead of schedule for the seventh straight year. Our plan balances the books while focusing on issues important to Michigan families. Top priorities include more funding for K-12 education, increased funding for public safety, more money to support military veterans, increased support for worker training, and increased investments to fix Michigan’s roads.

Michigan is no longer in the heart of the rust belt. We are increasingly becoming known as the “tech belt.” An example of our growing technological expertise and presence are new laws that allow expanded “real world” testing of autonomous vehicles and enable the creation of a mobility research center at the old Willow Run factory site for advanced research and development.

I was happy to be the lead sponsor of this legislation. Many states and countries are competing for a leading role in the development of this technology. These laws will keep Michigan at the cutting edge of automotive innovation and manufacturing so the future of transportation remains here in our state, and they will help ensure we remain the world leader in the auto industry.

We have much to celebrate, and others are taking notice. Nationally, Michigan is making news as we join the ranks of top states in scorecards on economic climate, opportunity, job growth and innovation potential. We are making steady progress in our quest to become a top-tier, jobs-first state, yet there is still much work to be done.

I will continue to work hard so we can keep the positive momentum going and build a stronger future for us all — those who remained here during the tough times and those who are now returning.

This column first appeared in the Spinal Column newsweekly. Senator Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is the Michigan Senate majority floor leader. He serves the residents of the 15th Senate District, representing western Oakland County.