Flint, MI— Flint community leaders want to ensure Governor Whitmer’s recently-proposed $2.1 billion spending package reaches the city’s young people, workforce, and small businesses.

The overall package, known as the “MI New Economy” plan, is aimed at growing Michigan’s middle class, supporting small business, and community building through infrastructure investment. Officials from Michigan’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) stopped in Flint as part of a statewide tour on Oct. 26.

Susan Corbin, director of LEO, presided over a meeting of about 30 regional representatives including Charles Stewart Mott Foundation CEO Ridgway White, Glenn and Essence Wilson of Communities First, Inc., Brandee Cooke-Brown of 100K Ideas, local business owners, and multiple representatives from the Flint & Genesee Group and local colleges.

“After a once-in-a-century pandemic, Michigan’s economy is poised for a once-in-a-generation comeback,” Corbin said in her opening remarks.

Using funds from the American Rescue Plan, Corbin explained, the governor’s proposed plan slates $722 million for growing Michigan’s middle class through investment in post-secondary education; $651 million to support small businesses, including “microbusinesses” of 10 or fewer employees; and $800 million in infrastructure investment, like high-speed internet access and housing development, to “build strong communities.” 

The plan outlines many goals for those investments, including lifting 100,000 families out of working poverty in the next five years, 100% access to high-speed internet in the same timespan, and 60% of Michigan’s adult population holding a post-secondary credential by 2030–a point which multiple Flint representatives spoke about during discussion. 

“Let’s go back to the idea of having high school graduates actually have a skill when they walk out of high school and be able to do something that is self-sustaining,” said Khalfani Stephens, Flint’s economic development director. 

Robert Matthews, associate VP for Mott Community College’s workforce & economic development division added that such change requires thoughtful communication about career and education planning. 

“Some of it is in our messaging,” Matthews said to the room. 

He said he and his colleagues have struggled to explain that while college isn’t for everyone, people still benefit from a post-secondary credential.

“Many of the young people that I communicate with and work with are often confused around that message,” he said.

Matthews added that there are many opportunities that don’t require a degree, like career and technical education programs. He again stressed the need to consider the language used to share the educational goals of the “MI New Economy” plan with the communities it’s meant to help.

“I think we will be better off when we can collectively say that those are career paths that are good for ‘our’ children and not ‘their’ children. There is a big difference,” Matthews said.

Other leaders voiced their support for the plan, but echoed that there needed to be a thoughtful strategy for its funding to reach those who stand to benefit from it. 

“As a small business owner, I am very happy to see … support for small businesses in particular,” said Sandra Kelly, owner of Prestige Promotions LLC.

“We all live in an Amazon world,” she said, referring to the e-commerce giant. “But it’s really important to support local businesses, main street businesses.” 

Kelly shared that she had been helped by a grant in the past and that during COVID-19, the Small Business Association had done “an excellent job of reaching out and making opportunities known” for her.

“So I ask that there’s really an effort to communicate with small and microbusinesses,” she concluded about the plan. “So that they know what opportunities are out there, so that they are able to take advantage of those opportunities.”

After the discussion, Corbin said what she heard from Flint’s community and business leaders are all things the governor is trying to address with the “MI New Economy” plan. 

“That tells me that we’re on the right pathway,” she said.

The “MI New Economy” plan is still being negotiated between the governor, state budget office, and legislators. Corbin said she expected to “see some action” on the plan before the end of the year.

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....