MARQUETTE - On a busy visit to Marquette Friday - with forums addressing issues ranging from personal property tax reform to the importance of investing in early childhood eduction to a report on progress of the state's Mental Health Commission - Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said the Upper Peninsula is a "critically important" part of the state's future.
"Statewide, we will not achieve the goals that we have for the state of Michigan unless things here are on the right path; and recognizing that some of the traditional aspects of what happens with the economy here are going to be critically important for our future - mining and forestry and timber industry and tourism - the story that we like to tell is that the economy here is about a lot more than that," Calley said. "The manufacturing sector that exists in the U.P. is something to be really proud of. And so all of those factors make it a strategically important player in Michigan's comeback."
Calley said the administration's focus here is because of that importance.
Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley speaks during a public forum on the proposed state tax restructuring at Northern Michigan University on Friday. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
"It's because we believe that the U.P. has a ton to offer and we just want to foster that because it creates opportunity for people here and it creates opportunity for people downstate too that when we're all doing well, those connections really help us to just take it to the next level," Calley said.
Calley spoke Friday at a morning forum on the importance of Investing in Early Childhood Education, sponsored by the Marquette-Alger Great Start Collaborative and Lake Superior Community Partnership.
Calley said the administration has worked for economic reforms since first arriving in Lansing.
"Making the economic reforms has given us some economic growth that has fostered revenue growth for the state of Michigan and that created resources where we could really start talking about and making investments in things for the future, for the long-term, and early childhood eduction was one of the first things on that list," Calley said. "One of the top initiatives was to ensure that every child that wanted an early childhood eduction, every parent that wanted their child to have that opportunity, would have it, that Michigan would be a no-wait state."
Calley said with funding the state took a big step last year and will take another this year toward accomplishing that goal.
"We want to get the word out that this is a resource that is available now across the state, because it's not something that parents have to do, but we want to let them know, want to make sure they know that this is something that's available," Calley said. "We know that when kids get started off on the right track ... they have a better shot at success."
In similar fashion, Calley spoke about early opportunities for children with mental health issues. Calley spoke Friday at the U.P. Children's Coalition's annual conference regarding the efforts of the Michigan Mental Health Commission, specifically as they relate to children.
"My public policy work over the course of the last year has been heavily focused on mental health policy," Calley said. "Just like early childhood eduction, when it comes to developmental disabilities, mental health issues, along with in some cases, substance use disorders, that the early intervention is a really powerful tool there as well."
Calley said results have been proven.
"This is not a theoretical discussion, we know for sure that when we give kids the right resources, the resources that they need, at the time that they need it, it changes the trajectory of their life," Calley said.
Calley said he sees evidence of this in his own household. He has a 7-year-old daughter with autism.
"We put everything into making sure that she gets what she needs and she's exceeded the expectations of every professional that we have worked with over the years," Calley said. "And so what she's proving every day and what I want every single child in this state to have is that when you do provide the right resources at the right time, particularly early in life, that you have an opportunity to impact brain development in a way that will serve that child and, really, serves society at large for decades to come."
Calley was chairman of the bipartisan Mental Health and Wellness Commission, which created a report and several recommendations last year. He said state officials are working now in the first stages of implementing those recommendations, which have been well-received.
All of the recommendations in the report had unanimous support of the commission.
"From the most liberal of people to the most conservative of people, this seems to be an area where people can really come together and come to the conclusion that it's the right thing to do," Calley said. "To help create a world that provides for more independence and more self-determination and higher expectations and opportunities from school right on through to the work force for people that have different neurological make-ups."
Among the findings in the report, the commission said Michigan needs to coordinate efforts among agencies, establish higher expectations for programs and achieve better outcomes for children.
Looking ahead to the governor's race, Calley said Snyder "has a tremendous amount of support across the state and we believe that that is tied directly to results and performance.
"Our state looks very different than it did just a few years ago. We've seen over a quarter-million private sector jobs created in our state during that time and we also see the per-capita income in our state is growing at a Top 10 rate."
That said, Calley said the state is coming out of the deepest economic recession that we had seen in Michigan in decades.
"And when you consider that, it's important to remember that context that we cannot afford to be complacent, we cannot afford to be content that we're looking to show the people of the state of Michigan that while it's great to nearly cut the unemployment rate in half over the course of the deepest part of the recession to today, it's great to have job growth, it's great to have personal income growth again, it's great to have population growth again, but we've got a long way to go," Calley said.
Calley said the answer moving forward is "talent development in our people and the things that our people can accomplish and achieve. That is the way we get from where we are today which is improved, but still some way to go, to being back on the top of the economic food chain again."
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.