THE NEFF ZONE -- BY JIM NEFF
CADILLAC NEWS -- APRIL 28, 2018
I am often asked how I select the topics for this column. Truth be told, it's quite easy. I throw away about 95 percent of my research. We humans are a strange lot, so there is an unending stream of things about which to write. As the classic Saturday Night Live character Roseanne Rosannadanna observed: "It's always something - if it ain't one thing it's another."
The real challenge is stitching together seemingly unrelated items into a form that presents them as related. This could be described as the chain reaction method, where one thought meshes into a second thought and so on.
For example, earlier this week the Cadillac News ran a front page story about the new apartment complex being planned for the former Oleson's grocery store block. One of the statements in the article that piqued my interest related to parking spaces: “...research indicates that the young professionals who will be interested in living at the location don't drive as much as previous generations...They will be living and working in downtown...The next generation looks at things differently."
The “development will create 54 one-bedroom units and 18 two-bedroom units.” To me, this means that with a bare minimum of one person per bedroom, 90 new “professional” jobs will need to be created in downtown Cadillac. (https://www.cadillacnews.com/news/architect-reveals-site-plan-for--story-apartment-complex-in/article_9da93c4a-4765-11e8-aa11-e79b4ef1f618.html)
This is an exciting prospect for downtown, but that led me to wonder just how Cadillac is going to attract more young professionals. It might not be an easy task according to an April 20 article in the Detroit Free Press which dealt with Michigan's youth exodus. “There are relatively fewer young, skilled folks in Michigan than in other states, and many college graduates are fleeing. In 2015-16, Michigan tied for fifth-lowest among all states in the proportion of its population who are young adults age 26 to 34, the group targeted for modern skills. This group accounted for only 11 percent of the population.”
So, taking this into consideration, it could take more than housing to attract this demographic. The article went on to list some of the things young professionals are seeking – diversity, an urban environment, alternative transportation options, strong public services, affordable health care, a healthy natural environment, and increased support for K-12 education.(https://www.freep.com/story/opinion/2018/04/20/jobs-alone-wont-reverse-michigans-youth-exodus/533006002/)
Of course, after attracting these folks to a town, the long-term hope is that some of them will choose to become permanent residents, home owners, parents, and strong community members. How does a town accomplish this?
This question led me to another Detroit Free Press article last week by business writer John Gallagher. It dealt with government incentives given to businesses for job creation. You might think job creation is a no-brainer for attracting people to a community and you would be correct. However, government incentive give-aways might not always work.
“In a new report, Timothy Bartik, an economist with the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, looked at incentives nationally. He estimated that incentives tip only about 20 percent of all projects, meaning that 80 percent of projects would happen anyway. Incentives may create an influx of new jobs and residents; but those newcomers also create increased costs of public services for schools, traffic management, police protection, and more.”
When referring to schools (something young professionals say is a priority) the report states: “State and local governments ought never take money out of other public services to pay for the incentives, and most importantly should never short education funding. The hit to future incomes by stealing money from schools to pay for tax breaks for new development always produces a long-term net loss.” (https://www.freep.com/story/money/business/john-gallagher/2018/04/21/detroit-tax-incentives-debate/520186002/)
It would appear, then, that one long-term key in attracting young professionals to a state or town is to foster solid K-12 education. This seems to be a difficult concept to grasp for Michigan politicians. According to the U.S. Department of Education, from 1979 to 2013, “Michigan is one of seven states that increased spending on corrections more than five times as fast as it did on public education over the last three decades.” (https://www.freep.com/story/news/education/2016/07/07/michigan-spending-schools-corrections/86795772/)
According to data from the Michigan Senate, 84 percent of Michigan school districts are funded at $7,631 per student. Compare that to a Bridge Magazine report that notes: “Michigan spends close to $2 billion a year on its prison system. That’s about 19 percent of the state general fund. That’s a lot of money from the state budget to house prisoners; money that isn’t going to things like public schools, police troopers or road repairs.”
(https://www.bridgemi.com/public-sector/snyders-michigan-fewer-prisoners-less-prison-spending and http://www.senate.michigan.gov/sfa/Departments/DataCharts/DCk12_SchoolFundingComprehensive.pdf)
Thinking long-term again, money spent on education is a better investment than money spent on prisons. Business Insider states: “A 10 percent increase in high school graduation rates would result in a 9 percent decline in criminal arrest rates.”
At the other end of the education investment spectrum, the Washington Center for Equitable Growth adds: “Publicly investing in high-quality prekindergarten provides a wide array of significant benefits to children, families, and society as a whole. When these children become juveniles and adults, they are less likely to engage in criminal activity. They graduate from high school and attend college at higher rates. Once these children enter the labor force, their incomes are higher, and so are the taxes they will pay back to society. Thus, investment in high-quality prekindergarten has significant implications for future government budgets, both at the national and the state and local levels, for the economy as a whole, for education, for crime, and for health.” (http://equitablegrowth.org/report/the-benefits-and-costs-of-investing-in-early-childhood-education/)
The take-away from all of this is that there are many pieces to the puzzle when it comes to attracting young professionals to a state or town and eventually turning them into permanent state and community residents. One significant key, however, is the existence of a strong and vibrant K-12 school system.
This is an exciting time for development in Cadillac. The recent improvements in the downtown and City Park areas continue to enhance the quality of life for the city's residents. It will be fascinating to watch the future unfold.
Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read neff Zone columns online at CadillacNews.com and NeffZone.com/cadillacnews.