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Original article URL: http://bridgemi.com/2014/01/gov-snyder-spot-on-in-bid-to-welcome-immigrants/

Phil's column

Phil Power is founder and chairman
of the Center for Michigan.

Gov. Snyder spot on in bid to welcome immigrants

(photo illustration by AJ Jones)

(photo illustration by AJ Jones)

Gov. Rick Snyder likes to describe himself as “one tough nerd.” He is also widely and accurately regarded as a numbers guy.

And his annual State of the State speech last week was, indeed, true to type. There was none of the soaring rhetoric of his predecessor, Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Our governor would never win an oratory contest, and I suspect he knows it.

But instead, what we got was a down-to-earth, wide-ranging list of topics, from campaign promises kept and initiatives accomplished to some forward-looking priorities. Snyder is clearly, if unofficially, running for a second term, and the speech offered an advance look at what his re-election campaign will look like.

For me, the most interesting part of the speech had to do with his emphasis on how immigrants coming to Michigan can be an essential part of our state’s economic development strategy.

To his credit, Snyder has been talking about welcoming immigrants ever since his first State of the State back in 2011. This time, however, he called for creating a “Michigan Office for New Americans,” to help educated, talented and ambitious immigrants, and he urged federal approval for a visa program to help provide a path to citizenship for entrepreneurial immigrants who come with at least $500,000 in capital to invest in new businesses.

Indeed, the metrics of what immigrants have done here are impressive – even to a numbers guy. From 1995-2005, one quarter of all high-tech startups in the U.S. were founded by non-native-born entrepreneurs, fully half of all such firms in Silicon Valley.

In Michigan, where only six percent of our population today is foreign born, a radically disproportionate 32 percent of high-tech startups from 1990 to 2005 were founded by immigrants!

In fact, nearly one-sixth of all businesses started in Michigan between 1996 and 2007 were launched by immigrants; in all, those 2,276 firms generated $1.5 billion in one year alone.

Clearly, we need more of this. The Michigan Office for New Americans idea follows past steps taken by the Snyder Administration to encourage immigrant-driven economic success.

At Snyder’s urging, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) has provided financial support for the Global Talent Retention Initiative of Michigan, a pioneering international student program. It’s aimed at encouraging the best of the more than 25,000 foreign-born students at Michigan universities, many of them studying engineering and math, to stay after graduation.

The governor’s administration has developed a series of online professional licensing guides designed to help new Americans through the thicket of regulations and requirements.

Now, his Office for New Americans is a logical next step. Former State Rep. Steve Tobocman (D-Detroit) is a very bright guy who started Global Detroit and has been a consistent and effective advocate for immigrants as drivers of Michigan’s economy.

Tobocman says the new office “sends a signal that Governor Snyder is serious, that he is committed to making our state welcoming, and that the complexities of the field … require full-time attention and coordination.”

Complexities are right. One example: Michigan has filed an application to be designated an EB-5 visa application center, something that would allow the state to reach out to prospective investor immigrants. Makes plenty of sense, yes?

True — but bizarrely, the feds have placed management of the program in the Department of Homeland Security, not the Department of Commerce. Unraveling that bureaucratic snafu is bound to take some of the governor’s attention.

The solution to Michigan’s most pressing problem – how to remake Detroit into an economic engine rather than a sinkhole – has much to do with immigration policy. One of the key priorities for a revitalized Detroit is increasing the number of residents, and it’s plain that immigration is the only population growth strategy that has worked in any significant way in years.

The growing Hispanic community in Southwest Detroit, the Middle Eastern one in Dearborn and multi-ethnic Hamtramck are all envied by struggling neighborhoods throughout Michigan.

Back in 2011, Tobocman told me “nothing is more powerful to remaking Detroit as a center of innovation, entrepreneurship and population growth than embracing and increasing immigrant populations and the entrepreneurial culture and global connections they bring.”

I suspect Gov. Snyder has heard that message.

And looking through his State of the State speech gives the impression he has been listening to other far-sighted folks, as well. The governor wants another $65 million in support for a state-run, free pre-K program for poor and vulnerable four year-olds. He wants to explore the idea of year-round schools, where kids don’t forget much of last year’s learning over a long summer vacation. And he wants the legislature to finish a new teacher evaluation system.

Two weeks ago, I went after the governor for signing a bill that perpetuates the disgraceful amount of secret “dark money” sloshing into Michigan political campaigns. Signing that bill was a bad decision.

But there’s much to admire in Rick Snyder’s State of the State speech. We have no idea yet how the campaign for governor will unfold over the next 10 months. But the markers Snyder laid down last week offer a powerful case for what he’s done as a nerdy numbers guy who happens to be our governor.

Former newspaper publisher and University of Michigan Regent Phil Power is a longtime observer of Michigan politics and economics. He is also the founder and chairman of the Center for Michigan, a nonprofit, bipartisan centrist think–and–do tank, designed to cure Michigan’s dysfunctional political culture; the Center publishes Bridge Magazine. The opinions expressed here are Power’s own and do not represent the official views of the Center. He welcomes your comments at ppower@thecenterformichigan.net.

16 comments from Bridge readers.Add mine!

  1. Le Roy G. Barnett

    If I recall correctly, as the countdown took place for Hong Kong to go from British to Chinese control, thousands of business people left the Asian port city for Vancouver, Canada, bringing their talents and many millions of dollars with them. Vancouver boomed as a result of this infusion. As the world–particularly Africa and the Middle East–becomes increasingly unstable, it is entirely possible that greater-Detroit could serve as a modern-day “Vancouver” for entrepreneurs and intellectuals abroad seeking to relocate to a more predictable environment.

  2. patsy

    Michigan’s working poor, lower middle class and seniors will bear the cost. Corps always looking for abundant cheap labor while pushing the cost on to the taxpayers. Not a winning long term strategy for the country.

    1. Ellen

      I totally agree with Patsy’s statements. Immigration law has to be followed before Michigan becomes the immigration port that our governor so desires. Out of state or increased immigration will expect excellent public schools, city services, well stocked libraries, etc when they settle in Michigan. Before new citizens become a part of Michigan/U.S., we need to problem solve our poverty issues.

    2. Charles Richards

      Patsy is quite right if she means unskilled, uneducated immigrants; we have more than enough unskilled, uneducated people now. But she is absolutely wrong if she means talented, highly educated people with drive. And those are the kind of people Governor Snyder is trying to attract.

  3. john austin

    Realizing the economic transformative power of immigrants and immigration; and looking as nearby as Toronto and Chicago– both cold Great Lakes cities that have become more cosmoplitan, economically vital multi-national entrepots — through waves of new immigrants, led us several years ago through the New Economy Initiative to seed the creation of Global Detroit. Governor Snyder was on the Board of NEI when i proposed this effort, his ongoing support, and the terrific work of Steve Tobocman to make it go have led to a great opportunity for Michigan to be a state that welcomes all, and where all benefit.

    1. patsy

      Any followup studies on how that is working for the current residents of Detroit?

  4. Gene

    Lets clean up all of the expired H1b visas first. We need to locate these people find out what they are doing. Then use tax payer money for projects to get the unemployed back to work. Work equals dignity. Like it or not the WPA and CCC brought the dignity of work. We benefit today for WPA and CCC projects some 80 years later. Example the moving of the rail line from Woodward to its current location. Our National Parks still benefit from CCC trails and structures. Lets put America back to work. It might reduce the crime rate.

  5. Neil

    Does the need for an immigrant office demonstrate the failure of Michigan’s educational system and future entrepreneurial inspiration of the student citizens? Are we parented and educated without entrepreneurial ambition? Or, are we just as smart as the immigrants but have lost the ambition?

  6. Charles Richards

    Mr. Power says of Governor Snyder, “He is also widely and accurately regarded as a numbers guy.” And then goes on to say, “There was none of the soaring rhetoric of his predecessor, Gov. Jennifer Granholm.” That is all in Governor Snyder’s favor. Numbers are much better than language at conveying information. Numbers have more significance and less ambiguity than language. They may not be nearly as exciting and entertaining as “soaring rhetoric” but they delineate reality much better.

  7. Duane

    Mr. Power shows a flawed understanding of change, he only sees the ‘big idea’ and disregards all those who want to work on the root causes that create his desire for the ‘big idea’ and those who will give him a ‘big idea’ to support.

    Mr. Power talks about creating ethnic enclaves and justifies them by supporting entrepreneurship. He sees the immigrants as groups to get special treatment, rather than seeing all should have the same opportunities. He sees Governor Snyder’s emphasis on immigrants as the ‘big idea’, as the vehicle for special treatment. Just as he sees formal preschool training as the ‘big idea’, Mr. Power never takes the time to consider why he needs the ‘big idea’ or why we gravitates to the ‘big idea,’ he can only see the ‘big idea’. He doesn’t take the time to see that the ‘big idea’ fails unless there are people solving what forced him and others to seek the ‘big idea’.

    The Governor’s rationale for immigration encouragement as a source of entrepreneurs, the reality is that we don’t have a culture across Michigan that supports, encourages, and develops prospective entrepreneurs. If we don’t create an environment for entrepreneurs the newly recruited ones from an immigrant population will simply flounder and either fail or go elsewhere.

    A simple way to start creating a change in the environment is for people like Mr. Power to start recognizing success. Mr. Power can only see failure and promote hope so all we hear from him is failure and hope. Mr. Power seems to be oblivious to history, even his history, and fails to have learned from it. We have changed dramatically in Mr. Power’s lifetime, success abounds all around us, and yet he seems never to notice that success so how should we expect him to understand what is necessary for success.

    Just as Mr. Power touts the ‘big idea’ of preschool training spending he ignores the reason for its acceptance. He wants better educated kids, as do we all, but he is unwilling to accept that we have known how to achieve it without a ‘big idea’, he is unwilling to find out what it will take to implement those successes, he is unwilling to challenge what is going on now, and it all seems because he wants the one ‘big idea’ that will cure all ills, one that he need only promote.

    The reality is that the disrupters, the foundations of change, the building blocks of success aren’t the ‘big idea’, they are the small ideas that come from everyday people who take the time to talk about the causes, the successes, and who are the sources of innovation and not the creators/promoters of ‘big ideas’.

    Mr. Power like others with a platform to communicate to people are a barrier to our success, they only focus on failures, on barriers, on the ‘big idea’, they never take the time to identify success, to understand that success, and to share it so others can learn from it.

    I wonder if Mr. Power has even looked at his life as a success and tried to understand how it was achieved. My wife and I saw ourselves as successes when first deciding to have children so we took the time to figure out why we felt that way and what it took to achieve it, then we applied it to raising our children. We made our mistakes, but we succeeded with our children and they have built on our success to be even better parents and having more successful children. It was everyday things in a system without the ‘big ideas’ Mr. Power finds so important.

    Mr. Power should consider rather than the next ‘big idea’ he wants success may already be in practice with people across Michigan and we simply need to stop and look and listen.

  8. Salle

    I like the idea of becoming a welcoming state. I like the poem of the statue of liberty too. I’m not so sure I like the idea of focusing on “educated, talented, ambitious immigrants…. with at least $500,000.00 capital” Would we be aiming to become a state for people with advantages? The huddled masses yearning to be free can just go elsewhere? likewise “your tired, your poor,” and the “homeless, tempest-tossed” ? Can’t we be a state that is a good place for people without advantages as well for those with advantages? I’d like Michigan to be a place where, if you’re poor, it is a good place to be because you can still earn your living / participate in the economy, contribute to your community, and know you belong.
    Let’s not build a new aristocracy, one of wealth, talent, and education just because we think they will start a business and provide jobs. Such jobs are only a by-product. It is a demand backed by the wherewithal to pay for it that makes jobs. A business tries to provide what will satisfy the demand. If the business needs workers it will hire them and call them labor which is also called a cost of production. A business tries to reduce or eliminate costs (jobs), not make them.

    I want to find ways to reduce the costs of living and increase opportunities for everyone to participate in the economy.

    Entrepreneurs aren’t really job-makers. They are business-makers. A business tries to reduce it’s costs and, to a business, the laborer is a cost of production, something to be reduced or even eliminated, not made.

  9. Salle

    I like the idea of becoming a welcoming state. I like the poem of the statue of liberty too. I’m not so sure I like the idea of focusing on “educated, talented, ambitious immigrants…. with at least $500,000.00 capital” Would we be aiming to become a state for people with advantages? The huddled masses yearning to be free can just go elsewhere? likewise “your tired, your poor,” and the “homeless, tempest-tossed” ? Can’t we be a state that is a good place for people without advantages as well for those with advantages? I’d like Michigan to be a place where, if you’re poor, it is a good place to be because you can still earn your living / participate in the economy, contribute to your community, and know you belong.
    Let’s not build a new aristocracy, one of wealth, talent, and education just because we think they will start a business and provide jobs. Such jobs are only a by-product. It is a demand backed by the wherewithal to pay for it that makes jobs. A business tries to provide what will satisfy the demand. If the business needs workers it will hire them and call them labor which is also called a cost of production. A business tries to reduce or eliminate costs (jobs), not make them.

    I want to find ways to reduce the costs of living and increase opportunities for everyone to participate in the economy.

    Entrepreneurs aren’t really job-makers. They are business-makers. A business tries to reduce it’s costs and, to a business, the laborer is a cost of production, something to be reduced or even eliminated, not made.

    1. Duane

      Salle,

      “if you’re poor, it is a good place to be because you can still earn your living / participate in the economy, contribute to your community, and know you belong.” What do you think is holding back the ‘poor’? Why don’t you believe they are able to earn a living or participate in the economy? Why do you think they are being prevented from contributing to their communities?

  10. dale westrick

    I watched a panel discussion on cpan about stem education. It pointed out why the US was welcoming foreign workers mainly because of their skill sets and the need for us to educate our work force for tomorrow. The video is about 2 hours long but is well worth watching. Copy and paste this link into your boozer and enjoy.
    Dale Westrick

    http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/317093-1

  11. Big D

    Legal immigrants are vetted and as the governor said, are generally educated, industrious, ambitious and provide a huge entreprenuerial surge. Conversely, ILLEGAL immigrants are a total potluck, and include many lowlifes who are seeking support or victims. The left and the media have managed to conflate “immigrant” and “illegal alien” so that everyone are now confused when the word “immigrant” is used without qualification.

    There is a lot to be said for improving our legal immigration process and quotas. There is even more to be said for actually enforcing our immigration laws as they pertain to ILLEGAL immigration.

    It would be nice to think that the distinction will be clear as any legislation pertaining to immigration advances. Fat Chance.

    1. Duane

      Big,

      The confusion you are frsutrated with is something that those who don’t want the illegals held accountable find to their advantage. It draws those who see a benefit to well educated immigrants to a point where they will throw up their arms in frustration and say take them all so we can get some benefit without regard to the unintended consequences of the approach.

      Confusion, frustration are the tools of the ‘well intended’ who don’t care about the unintended consequences and who want to avoid accountability.

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