State Senate Economic Development Committee brings hearing to Southgate

From the News-Herald

SOUTHGATE — A state Senate committee heard plenty about job creation and retention in the area Friday.
Chairman Mike Kowall (R-White Lake) brought the Economic Development Committee to the Downriver Community Conference office for a hearing and welcomed several of the state and region’s most prominent directors on the topic.
The most interesting information came from James McBryde, vice president of governmental affairs for the Michigan Economic Development Corp. In discussing the need for a second bridge to Canada, he said gaining access to a major seaport is one of the most prominent perks.
“The port that is really up and coming is Halifax (Nova Scotia),” he said. “That route will be huge for the state and for trade when that corridor opens up.”
Gov. Rick Snyder and the Canadian government announced a plan last summer to erect a second span over the Detroit River just south of the privately owned Ambassador Bridge. Canada would fund construction of the bridge and recoup its investment in toll revenue. Other construction costs in the United States, mainly a customs plaza here, would be borne by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Some believe the new bridge could be open to traffic as soon as 2020.
Kowall also highlighted the need for a regional advisory committee to assist the state Strategic Fund on matters of international trade. His Senate Bill 272, which is in the House for consideration, would create the authority with members from across the state.
Several Downriver dignitaries, including Allen Park Mayor William Matakas; Sandy Mull, Southern Wayne County Regional Chamber president; Anthony Arminiak, Wayne County Community College District Downriver campus president; and Gregory Pitoniak, Southeast Michigan Community Alliance/Michgian Works director, also addressed the committee to highlight the efforts their agencies and communities had designed to make the region competitive.
Mull discussed a rebranding campaign for the area that was born out of a summit meeting for the region while Arminiak stressed the need for greater emphasis on skills-based education to fill manufacturing jobs that require more than just basic abilities.
“It seems some parents still believe there only are two paths,” he said. “They think you can go into the automotive industry or go to a four-year university. That’s not the case.
“We need to do all we can to make it clear that skill-based education can lead to good, high-tech jobs and salaries.”
Sen. Mike Nofs (R-Battle Creek) posed an interesting case to Pitoniak, whose agency assists workers seeking jobs and/or retraining.
So-called driver responsibility fees, tacked on to a driver’s registration costs after a certain number of points on their license or other serious traffic offenses, often can become barriers to employment, he said. The trouble is, “They’re too good and raise too much revenue to get rid of.”
Pitoniak and DCC Director Jim Perry agreed, but added that both agencies provide paths to transportation to ensure drivers with less-than-stellar records aren’t pushed out of good job opportunities.
Sens. Virgil Smith (D-Detroit), Jim Ananich (D-Flint) and Judy Emmons (R-Sheridan) also sat with the committee, which has been touring the state in recent months to stress the services the MEDC can offer communities and individuals seeking to create or attract new business development.
Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood (D-Taylor), state Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) and Wayne County Commissioner Joseph Palamara (D-Grosse Ile) also attended the hearing.