MARQUETTE - The Upper Peninsula may, in part, hold the key to Michigan's economic rebound, according to Gov. Rick Snyder.
"One of the keys to Michigan's future is more exports, and that applies to every part of Michigan," Snyder said at the Ramada Inn Monday night while addressing the Economic Club of Marquette County. "That applies up here, where we've got great opportunities. We've got mining opportunities, we've got timber opportunities ... and the more avenues we create for international trade, the better off we are."
During a swing through the Upper Peninsula this week, Snyder is meeting with government and university officials and touring local businesses, including Cliffs Natural Resources and Pioneer Surgical.
The governor also said he sees clear areas for improvement in a handful of state departments, including the Department of Natural Resources.
"A lot of it is changing the metric to say that their goal in life is not to penalize people. Their goal in life is to help people succeed, while performing our fiduciary duty to make sure we're protecting our citizens appropriately," he said.
Snyder spent most of his time in front of the Economic Club detailing his record of achievements and laying out plans for the coming months. He feels that his team has completed four years of work in just six months.
After focusing on education, tax and budget reform, Snyder hopes to spend the rest of the year looking at state infrastructure reform and improving health and wellness throughout the state and the method by which Michigan fosters talent.
"Fixing Michigan is not good enough. It really isn't. In too many metrics, we're near the bottom," Snyder said. "We're 50 in some. We're 45 in others ... Adding two or three places is not something I aspire to."
In those first six months, Snyder introduced the concept of education "dashboards," which will track school district progress and will be visible online. He also drew fire from the education community when he oversaw a 15 percent cut to university funding and a reduction of hundreds of millions of dollars to the state's School Aid Fund, which subsidizes public education.
"People said, 'Boy, you're doing a lot of things with students and with education.' Well, it's about time," said Snyder, who said at the time of his state address on education reform that Michigan ACT tests indicated only 16 percent of students were college-ready. "We did improve. It went to 17 percent. But there's only one number that matters. It's 100 percent. Anything less than that is unacceptable."
Another aspect of government that Snyder found unacceptable was the annual budget-making process, which he said often included borrowing and accounting tricks.
He drew a parallel to the recent debt ceiling debate in Washington. The difference, he said, is that the federal government was concerned with how to increase the ceiling and take on more financial responsibility.
"In Michigan, in the first part of the year, our focus has been on how to start managing and stopping those liabilities from growing."
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.