GRAND RAPIDS - In his eighth consecutive and final address to Michigan Farm Bureau members attending the organization’s 99th annual meeting, Gov. Rick Snyder thanked the state’s agricultural industry for leading the state’s economic comeback in the early days of his administration eight years ago.
“You don’t give yourselves enough credit for the great things you do,” Snyder told the audience. “While other parts of our economy were still suffering, agriculture started Michigan’s economic comeback trend.”
According to a 2009 Moody Analytics jobs growth forecast, Snyder said Michigan was ranked dead last through 2014.
“Looking back – how did we do?” Snyder asked. “Michigan was No. 6 in 2014 -- we went from the bottom 10 to the top 10 as a state in four years.”
He credited Michigan agriculture’s growth in total annual economic contributions from $91 billion in 2012 to $104 billion today, citing growth of value-added processing including the Clemens pork plant in Coldwater, expansion of the Fairlife Dairy Coopersville plant, expansion of Zeeland Farm Services’ Ithaca soybean processing plant, and the Glanbia cheese plant in St. Johns, announced this past August.
He also commended agriculture’s growing utilization of the Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP), which encourages farmers to voluntarily follow best-management environmental practices, a result of Snyder’s first piece of legislation he approved.
“We had a goal of 5,000 MAEAP-verified farms, and we’re at 93% - that’s incredible,” he said.
Snyder also offered some sage advice looking forward.
“Don’t become complacent,” he warned, adding that the state needs to stay focused on “future economy” growth, an expansion of a competency-based workforce, and continued follow-through on infrastructure improvements.
“Back in 2010, we had huge budget deficits and the questions were, ‘where is there a job?’” Snyder said. “Now the question is, ‘How do I get the great training and the skill sets I need to take that opening that’s available today?’”
According to Snyder, there are currently more than 100,000 open jobs in Michigan, with predictions that the number will reach more than 800,000 by 2024 in approximately 40 different skill set categories, which will pay 40 percent more than average.
“We need to understand that it’s not just about getting a college degree, but how to go into career education, and how to do life-long learning,” Snyder said. “We’re going to have a massive change in our society about the need for people to learn and re-learn their entire life-time.”
Snyder said his Marshal Plan for Talent, still in effect for the next five years, should continue for the next 50 years to create more career technical education, more certificate education, more competency-based learning and life-long learning.
Turning to infrastructure, Snyder said his “Renew Michigan, Rebuild Michigan” plan will provide an additional $179 million annually to fund road and waste infrastructure improvements, which are essential to attracting more value-added processing in Michigan agriculture.
“The biggest issue we usually faced was how to get the infrastructure put in place to support them,” Snyder said. “So that’s not just spending money, that’s investing wisely.”
Snyder advised against selling bonds to fund infrastructure improvement efforts, saying it would simply transfer the financial burden to the next generation.
“If we can pay for it now, then let’s do it,” he said, adding that despite the campaign rhetoric, road funding in Michigan is up 40 percent in just the last five years.
“So it's great when you hear everyone talk about fixing the roads, but most of the money is already in place,” Snyder said.
In addition to spending increases, Snyder told the crowd that Michigan is now a national leader in taking a holistic approach to infrastructure improvements through “Integrated Asset Management,” modeled after the approach utilized in London, England that considers all necessary improvements, including underground infrastructure improvements – sewer and water – while also making surface-level road improvements.
And finally, Snyder stressed the need for more political civility.
“Our greatest threat to our nation today is not Iran, it’s not North Korea – it’s us,” he said. “What you’re seeing in our political world today is wrong. If we can’t agree on the total solution, then let’s get the 50 percent or 80 percent done that we can agree on to make our lives better.”
Snyder thanked Michigan Farm Bureau for the great partnership over the last eight years, adding he’s not planning on leaving Michigan, but to simply transition to his next career, “which is whatever my wife Sue says!”
“I want to personally thank each of you – I’ve learned so much about agriculture, and you’ve all made me a better person. It’s truly been an honor over the last eight years,” Snyder concluded.