Michigan, the national leader in recession, depends on an auto industry that will never be as big as it was. So how does the Detroit area diversify? Who's hiring, or investing in something new? Morning Edition reports on Detroit's desperate race to replace the jobs that the automakers eliminate.
Michigan's governor spoke this week near a General Motors plant. Jennifer Granholm went to the library in the town of Hamtramck. And she told a crowd they have a place in the economy of the future.
"If you can make a part for a car, if you can bend steel for a car, you can bend steel for a wind turbine, or you can make a solar panel," she told the crowd, "I'm telling you, we're gonna be all right"
The news had a way of overshadowing her message. As soon as the governor finished, reporters crowded around. They asked about Chrysler's possible bankruptcy.
The governor denounced Chrysler's creditors. Then she slipped into a back room to make a phone call about the crisis. When she returned she asked reporters if they could hear her yelling.
Amid these events, we asked the governor what's next for the state with the nation's highest unemployment. According to one economic firm, that bright future the governor promises is years away at best. A recent study by Global Insight predicts Michigan will not return to peak employment until sometime after 2014, years behind other areas of the country. Governor Granholm says that seems about right. "It is going to take some time because we have such a concentration of manufacturing jobs. We have a longer way to go to be able to replace those jobs."
And she believes new jobs in manufacturing can and will be created in Michigan. Take, for example, renewable energy. The US Department of Energy has rated Michigan as the fourth best place in America for the production of wind energy and the manufacture of wind turbines. The state is comprised of two peninsulas and is known for having strong winds blowing off of the Great Lakes. "We know how to do clean manufacturing. Manufacturing is in our DNA," says the Governor, "So insofar as this country is going to be manufacturing things to be able to produce renewable energy, we are a place where people should locate to be able to do that."
And then there's the electric car. The automobile industry helped put Michigan on the map last century. Governor Granholm believes history can repeat itself. "We've got 330 research and development tech centers related to the next automobile. And that electric vehicle and the battery associated with it. That's going to happen right here because of the legacy of that automotive history that we have."
But that doesn't mean her State wont change.
Steve Inskeep: "This must be a hard question for a booster of Michigan to face, but is there a reality a place like this has to face that over time there's just going to have to be fewer people doing fewer jobs here?"
Governor Jennifer Granholm: "Well, it may be a smaller state. I don't think people disagree with that. However I do think that because of the resources and the talent we have, the university system that we have it will come back."
And to help do that, she says she's been working to change the culture of her state – a culture that has been more about working for someone else than starting a business. "So creating that entrepreneurial culture is really what we have been focused on," says Granholm, "The spin-offs, commercializing, more venture capital, being able to use the universities as sort of drivers of a more diverse economy, life sciences, robotics, nanotechnology, all of that. You know, those are things we're focused on too."
But first, Granholm's administration must deal with a huge budget gap. Over the next few days she will have to cut the state's spending – something she says she's had to do every year since her election.
Steve Inskeep: "Give me an idea, who's going to suffer?"
Governor Jennifer Granholm: "Well, when I first became governor I went around the state and I asked citizens what should we save and what should go in a tough time? And what citizens said is, among all things, if you have to cut other things fine, but keep healthcare for vulnerable citizens and keep K-12 education intact. The rest of it, it's all up for grabs."
Governor Granholm has already recommended eliminating arts and culture from the budget. "You know there was a time when Michigan government was very large, had a lot of wonderful programs," but now she says, "We are lean and mean." She pauses and adds, "I should say we're lean but not mean."