Michigan must invest in “places” to grow

Researchers say tax breaks for large businesses won’t be enough to fix Michigan’s aging-population problem.

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Driving the news: Major investments to revitalize communities are necessary to retain young residents and attract immigrants to combat declines in the state’s competitiveness and quality of life, according to researchers at Michigan’s Citizens Research Council and research institute Altarum, which recently published several reports on the state’s population.

  • There’s a new push to attract working-age people and young families to the state being led by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who appointed a chief growth officer and announced the creation of a task force to identify population goals.
  • The governor echoed researchers’ findings at the Mackinac Policy Conference this month, saying the state must revitalize communities to make them more attractive places to live, work and play.

Why it matters: The state is projected to start losing population naturally due to aging as there are currently more deaths than births, which could have major implications for the state’s tax base.

  • From 2000 to 2020, only West Virginia grew more slowly than Michigan.

Between the lines: While economic incentives for large businesses have been one of the most prevalent ways leaders have attempted to attract high-paying jobs, researchers say it can’t be the only one.

  • “Some of that may be done with tax incentives, but a lot of it is going to be done with investment in place,” says Eric Lupher, president of the Citizens Research Council. “We’re not going to turn this around with tax breaks.”
  • Lupher says Michigan’s restrictive term limits have hampered creativity among politicians who are chronically looking for the next step up instead of “sticking around for a while, planting the seed and watching it grow.”
  • Upgrades to public transportation, infrastructure and amenities are key, Lupher says.

State of play: Michigan could also look to increase its share of immigrants.

  • Maintaining a slightly positive flow of net domestic migration starting in 2030 and attracting 3% rather than 2% of the 1.2 million immigrants to the U.S. starting in 2025 would result in Michigan’s population approaching 11 million people by 2050, researchers estimate.

What they’re saying: “If you’re comparing Denver to Detroit, Detroit to Nashville, a lot of young professionals are going to be looking at quality of life,” Lupher says. “Young people are saying, we can find certain amenities in other places. So either get serious about it or help us pack our bags.”

  • “You can’t just clean up an alley and all of a sudden people say, ‘Oh, wow, I found this cool place to be.’ It requires creating a culture that takes a long time to nurture and grow.”

Read our past stories on Michigan’s population problem.

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