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Joan L. Witte Headshot

Small Business Owners React to Michigan Governor's State of the State Address

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Michigan Governor Rick Snyder's "'dog years"' comments resonated around the table at a recent Brighton Chamber of Commerce luncheon. Snyder was there to speak about the State of the State speech he gave less than 24 hours before. Chamber members are predominately small business people. We live the dog years work life every day, cramming four years worth of work into six months.

"He (Snyder) adds value," said Michael McManus, President of Micro Works Computing, Inc. My other table mates agreed. Many remarked that in terms of work ethic and passion, Snyder gets a big thumbs up.

The points of view on Snyder's 2013 commitment to transportation were not so unanimous. All of us agree Michigan roads need work -- and lots of it. Preventive maintenance is important. Generally, we want our road repairs to last for decades versus the current feeling that repairs only last for a few years.

"I thought something was wrong with my car but it turned out to be the roads," shared Joan Bennett, President of Bennett Marketing Group. Bennett went on to say while she likes Snyder's focus on the roads, she questions his seemingly singular focus on roads when there are so many other issues we face.

John Wentzel, director at Lawrence, Evans, & Co., agrees roads are an issue, but he thought Snyder's luncheon comments regarding cyber crime and security being the United States #1 threat were spot on. He strongly shared, Michigan is a high-tech state and it's a missed opportunity that the Governor isn't making cyber security a bigger part of his focus. I would rather see 12,000 high paying tech jobs in exchange for our $1.2 billion investment.

Wentzel stressed information technology is infrastructure too, just like roads. I agree with Wentzel. It's hard to choose a major investment in concrete and asphalt highways over the information highway.

Besides cyber crime and high tech job creation, the cost of college was another topic on the minds' of many lunch attendees.

Many chamber members feel past political leadership has undermined our transportation system --- which is important to the entire nation, not just Michigan. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Michigan's three international bridges carry 16 percent of all U.S. - North American land-based trade. Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) is the 18th-busiest airport in North America. Our roads--especially the ones in the Detroit metro area--are a vital part of the global transportation system and its security. Very few states have this level of global transportation importance.

As Snyder points out, the last time any significant dollars were invested in roads was the late '90s. Because Michigan hasn't been as proactive as other states, we pay more for road repairs and more for car repairs. At current funding levels, the condition of Michigan's transportation infrastructure will continue its decline.

Michigan road quality is critical to our global and regional economic health. Poor roads and constant construction disrupt production and increase business' costs (truck traffic delays).

Thomas Jefferson Public Policy Program (TJPPP) researchers looked at issues surrounding federal infrastructure policy. They found investing in transportation infrastructure goes beyond mere road improvements and short-term benefits (like the 12,000 jobs). They found investing in highways and streets also generates significant economic returns to other industries and ultimately increases tax revenues too.

Personally, I don't like Snyder's metaphor that road investment is akin to changing the oil in your car. I think investing in our roads is more like paying attention to the arterial veins in our bodies. We need to keep our arteries open and running smoothly or the rest of our body suffers.

Our nation's and our state's roads are part of the life blood of our country's economic system. We need to invest and keep our highways and streets maintained.

Whatever happens in Michigan's capital this year, my fellow luncheon attendees, and I want both sides to work dog years to get the work done. Our state has too many challenges to waste time on bi-partisan politicking.