MARQUETTE - Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said he's excited about the growing opportunities for Upper Peninsula workers that he's seen on his swing through the U.P. this week.
"Clearly, in most areas, unemployment still lags behind the state average, and that's something that's been true for a long time," said Calley, who stopped in Marquette Tuesday before heading out to Munising and Manistique. "What I want to fight against is the notion that it's always going to be that way. Just because it's been that way for a long time doesn't mean it needs to be that way in the future."
He said manufacturing should be a major component in the U.P.'s economy in the future, adding that the current diversity in manufacturing, along with responsible mining and logging, could help strengthen an economy that's on the rise.
"Here in the U.P., one thing that's striking is you have auto suppliers, you have snowplow and electrical substation manufacturing and components to boat motors and to helicopters and to furniture. It's all across the board," Calley said. "There's just so many different aspects, diesel engines and so forth, it's a better place to be than to rely on just one single aspect of manufacturing. It's a diversity I think will serve the U.P. well."
He said the biggest problem he heard as he met with business owners was a lack of skilled workers, an issue Calley said was good to have.
"I would say far and away that was the top concern. That's actually true everywhere in the state and it's an exciting problem to have," Calley said. "If you need a workforce it means you've got work and that's a good development, a good place for us to be, and at the same time, it's an urgent problem because opportunity doesn't last forever and opportunity will move on if we're not prepared to take advantage of it."
Calley outlined a program, Michigan's Talent Portal, that helps coordinate what areas of the state need what type of workforce the most, to help parents and students know which career path will likely be flourishing once they finish school. For example, welding is one of the hottest jobs on the market right now in Michigan, he said.
And with new performance based funding models for higher education focused largely on four-year degrees, Calley said the governor's office is not forgetting about vocational education as well.
"Our community colleges are a real gem. I'd say it's one of the best value propositions available in our state in terms of things that state government puts money into," Calley said. "The results we get out of community colleges and what they do for people in our state in preparing them for relevant skills to meet the demand of the economy, it's the best value for the dollars we put into it."
Calley was scheduled to travel to Sault Ste. Marie today to meet with banking industry officials and then head back to Lansing Thursday.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.