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Posted on Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

'Talent gap' the focus as Gov. Rick Snyder's first-ever economic summit begins in Detroit

By Ben Freed


Governor Rick Snyder first announced the economic summit being held Monday and Tuesday at's Deals of the Year event in November.

Courtney Sacco I

Business leaders and job seekers may want to pay attention to Gov. Rick Snyder’s first economic summit, which begins Monday morning in Detroit. The governor has presented the forum as a first step towards tackling a structural skills gap that he said is plaguing the state.

“This is a hands-on, working summit that will prepare Michigan for the opportunities that await in our global economy,” Snyder said in a statement.

“It will challenge our business, education and economic development leaders to focus on new ways of providing meaningful job opportunities as we help meet the pressing talent needs of our employers.”

At the summit, employers and economic development professionals will attempt to determine the extent of the talent gap and identify possible solutions.

Snyder has repeatedly pointed to the more than 63,000 open positions on the Michigan Economic Development Corp.’s job engine as evidence that one of the economy’s major challenges is matching the state’s talent to those positions.

Bridge Magazine found recently that some economists question that view, noting that a shortage of talent should have increased wages across the state in order to make these positions more attractive. Although the state’s per capita income rose more quickly than most other states' in 2011, it still remains below pre-recession levels, with more than one quarter of Michigan workers in low-wage jobs.

In the Ann Arbor area, comparatively higher wages would appear to support the governor's claim of a talent gap. Economic forecasters found in 2012 that high-wage jobs represent the fastest growing sector in the local economy.

As Michigan searches for employees to fill current job openings, an aging workforce will create even more job demand as baby boomers begin to retire. This reality, coupled with young college graduates continuing to leave the state for major urban centers such as Chicago and New York City, means that a real or perceived structural skills gap could get worse before it gets better.

This conference is the first-ever prequel to the 18th annual governor's education summit, which will be held next month.

Snyder first announced the summit at’s Deals of the Year event in November. He said then that aligning jobs with education is crucial and that he hopes to establish the needs of businesses at the forum so they can be addressed at April’s educators meeting.

Reporters from and will be in Detroit for the summit Monday and Tuesday, bringing you live updates throughout each day. You can check the business page for updates from the event, which includes a series of keynote speakers and breakout brainstorming sessions grouped by economic region and industry.

If you have specific questions you’d like to see answered, please follow along in our Live Chat that will start at 9 a.m. where you can interact with MLive business reporters from across the state as we analyze statements and plans that take shape at the event.

Ben Freed covers business for You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Reach out to Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2



Tue, Mar 19, 2013 : 1:27 a.m.

The real talent gap is in Lansing.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 5:37 p.m.

First - I think 50K truly open jobs is a pretty healthy number for this size of this economy. That being said, I don't believe the 63K number represents actual open jobs or a reasonable data source for consideration. Its just invalid. I don't see anything about wages or benefits raises being considered. So either thats an artificial issue created about the economic initiatives of this state's administration something in this capitalistic market isn't exacty "free" for some reason that has yet to be addresses. All that being said, if you want lots of highly educated, very energetic, high skill, knowledge workers here in Michigan something has to give. Those people don't want to be in a state that defunds public education and attacks the rights its citizens based on their race, sex or sexual orientation. Those people don't want to retire in a place that taxes seniors to fund huge give aways to business. They just don't. In fact, I see some of the smartest people I know leaving because they see how this environment isn't sustainable and isn't fair. Rather than continue paying more than they should for public services and the good of everyone else while businesses aren't paying their fair share. It will be interesting to see where the "gap" goes from here.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 3:27 p.m.

Just another example of Snyder seeing things only from the perspective of the employers, and not from that of the employees. In Snyder's view, we need to produce young workers that fit what the corporations need: i.e., compliant, non-unionized, easily manipulated wage slaves who can be plugged into the corporate structure. Economic rejuvenation comes from the bottom up, not the top down. If Snyder really wants to improve the economy, he'll find ways to invest a heck of a lot more money into the public schools so they can produce the skilled workers of tomorrow, and stop union-busting so those workers have an incentive to remain in Michigan and take jobs here, which in turn boosts business and leads to the creation of more jobs. But no, Snyder only sees it from the boardroom perspective, and so to him it's more about cutting taxes for corporations, cutting spending on public education and other crucial needs, and then praying that his austerity strategy works, all while giving lip service to closing a "talent gap" that Republican-conceived policies helped to create in the first place. Please, Michigan, don't re-elect this man next year. He's a menace.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 3:43 p.m.

From what I've heard, the unions or union busting has nothing to do with talent leaving the state. If that were the case, these graduates would be pooling up at union supported places. Guess what, it's about well paying jobs. It isn't the unions obligation to bully employers into paying a decent (or falsely inflated wage). That decision is up to the employer and what market value determines what that potential employees salary is worth. The problem is employers want the world but aren't quite willing to pay the right price and our secondary education system doing a horrible job determining the skills our students need instead of the market itself.

Lizzy Alfs

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 1:12 p.m.

One issue I see is how do you keep recent graduates in Michigan when many are attracted to big cities with lots of opportunities. Also, one thing that sticks out in my mind on this topic: Barracuda executives have mentioned this "talent gap" and they will take trips to California (where the company is headquartered) to recruit people here.

Ben Freed

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 1:03 p.m.

I encourage everyone here to join us in our Live chat beginning shortly to discuss these issues and more!

Nicholas Urfe

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 12:55 p.m.

You reap what you sow; Michigan labors laws are in a race to the bottom, and the low skills workforce is a reflection of that. It will only get worse, as talent flees the state. Also, our taxes on workers are high. With Snyder and his corporate cronies preferring to shift the burden to the working clases. We have laws intended to obstruct collective bargaining and contacts; with the emphasis on "fire at will". They make it nearly impossible to have a "career". You are a drone. And even on the entrepreneurial front, Michigan's laws make it difficult to quit a job and move to another, due to non-competes and other restrictions. So they can fire you, but you can't go find another job.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 2:54 p.m.

Actually, the labor unions have been working at destroying the middle class for a very long time and have all but succeeded. But they blame it the republican legislature while they are all but trying to stop the hemorrhaging the unions have created for the middle class over decades of neglect. The union only cares about workers rights to the extent of money they can get out of it. That's why they also protect those that give other workers a bad name because it's one less due they will receive from one less worker if that worker is terminated.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 12:46 p.m.

A productive effort by the Governor. While we need better outcomes from pre K through 12, and more four year degree graduates, there is a big gap in the middle. Companies are struggling to fill jobs with technical requirements. They train themselves, but what will attract more jobs is having the workforce already prepared. Matching supply and demand on the jobs is the key so the efforts are efficient.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 2:29 p.m.

Its completely true our community colleges are entirely out of sync with what employers need. By the time they do roll around to creating a program to meet employers needs, the needs change. Michigan community colleges (specifically WCC) are nothing but a funnel into a four year degree (while many mostly not even useful 4 year degrees). However, many 4 year degree holders are having trouble finding anything above low wage. But at the same time, if our community colleges start actually offering real training to high wage, in demand jobs it is likely to keep these same misinformed students out of 4 year degree programs. So that house of cards will readily collapse. Interesting mess our secondary education system has gotten itself into.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 12:42 p.m.

I do not buy the "talent gap" argument at all. It barely makes economic sense, which is why so many economists have trouble with the idea. However, it is a politically convenient excuse - well utilized by both parties - to take the heat off of what are otherwise lackluster economic growth policies. Growth is wha we need - not training on how to use Office.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 12:30 p.m.

With all the talk about women in the workforce and work/family balance, I think "type and requirements of job available" is an issue that needs to be addressed. Flexible positions and more part-time positions would be helpful.


Mon, Mar 18, 2013 : 11:55 a.m.

If there is that much of a need, employers should start training people. Offer apprenticeships etc. They know what they need better than potential employees, who may spend two or more years in technical school or college but may still not have the particular skills desired by employers.