This week our town lost another business.
It wasn’t that big of a business; nine employees. And it wasn’t just a local closing; the company closed stores in several other states.
But it was just another economic kick in the teeth to Outer Podunk – never an affluent community, but hurting now bigtime, like the rest of Michigan.
There’s a real, widespread sense of disheartenment here – everywhere from Ann Arbor, which just lost a large Pfizer research facility, to always-struggling northern Michigan, a region that has come to depend economically on downstate tourists and well-to-do retired autoworkers, two groups now in very short supply, and whose modest small-town industrial parks seem to bleed newly laid-off workers every week. A coworker of mine, returning from a road trip to visit recently relocated family in Atlanta, commented to me, with some bemusement, “You wouldn’t believe it – they have so many job openings down there that they advertise them on freeway billboards.”
One local newspaper pundit blames our state’s malaise on the misperception elsewhere that Michigan is too unionized and high-wage – something that has never been the case north of, say, Lansing – scaring new investment away. Others blame our state’s tax structure and bureaucratic bloat. Others blame the state educational system for failing to train young people in skills that are currently in demand, and for a kind of whistling-in-the-graveyard cultural blue-collar mindset here that refuses to take seriously the reality that manufacturing is no longer going to be the economic backbone of the state – that it’s time to get over it, to finally pull the plug on that Rustbelt wish-dream of restored assembly-line glory, so we can finally move on in a new direction.
I’m not an economist – I have a hard time balancing my checkbook – so I’m not in any position to opine upon causes of or solutions to Michigan’s woes. But it makes me very sad to live here right now. Because this is a good state to live in. And it could be a great state. We have areas of incredible natural beauty that I think are unknown to many if not most other Americans – sometimes even other Michiganians. We have a well-regarded university system, and well-respected private colleges. Our state has pockets of social progressivism and tolerance; of artistry and artisanship; of creative entrepreneurship. We have so much potential to be something other than what the general public thinks of when they think of Michigan, if they think of Michigan at all – something other than slums and boarded-up factories and empty storefronts.
Pray for us, in Outer Podunk and elsewhere. We need it.