Photo courtesy of Ben Ernst Photo courtesy of Ben Ernst

Here’s how Michigan is growing its middle class through supporting its businesses and skills programs. 

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Supporting small businesses and creating better jobs—that’s how Michigan plans to jumpstart its economic recovery. 

But what does that look like? For many Michigan businesses and programs, it’s getting financial help from the government, which has continued assisting Michigan businesses during the pandemic. 

Take, for example, MI STEM Forward, which places science, technology, engineering, and mathematics students in internships in Michigan and improves talent attraction and retention. The program could receive a proposed $11 million from federal funding allocated by the administration of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, according to a recent announcement on how the state intends to spend $2.1 billion in federal relief funding to boost its middle class. 

“I really think that this investment that the state is making in MI STEM Forward program and in programs like it, it’s a huge return on investment. It’s an investment for sure, but the return on investment is going to be enormous,” said Ben Ernst, the Michigan STEM Forward Program Manager with its founding organization, Ann Arbor SPARK. 

Providing a SPARK to Michigan’s Middle Class

Programs like STEM Forward have proven crucial to Michigan in its efforts to build a solid workforce and in keeping those talented individuals in the state. Ernst said the program launched with the intention of sending 40-50 students through internships but now has loftier goals of placing around 500 interns around the state each year. 

Ernst also noted that through exit interviews with students and with the businesses they interned at, the program has been a positive experience all around. 

“The positive impact that it has on companies with the infusion of new ideas and new energy and new excitement, and then the potential for helping them to establish talent pipelines for their employees, is enormous, for sure,” Ernst told The ‘Gander. “In the end, I think the state only stands to benefit from keeping these sorts of folks in our state and offering them full-time positions and internships.”

Heading in the Right Direction

Michigan is just one of many states that saw an economic downturn during the pandemic. Over the course of 2020, the state saw an employment deficit of over 11%. For low-wage workers, that employment drop more than doubled, with an employment decrease of 23% for Michiganders who earn less than $27,000. 

While things have begun to level out with the emergence of COVID-19 vaccines, Michigan’s economy still has a way to go. That’s why the state is working to support those small businesses while also trying to create jobs of the future that offer economic stability. 

As such, Whitmer plans to use COVID-19 relief funds provided by the federal government to create better business environments for high-tech, high-growth start-up businesses in Michigan, hoping it’ll pave the way to more jobs of the future across the state. 

In addition to the proposed $11 million to STEM Forward, Michigan wants to put $40 million toward speeding up electric vehicle charging infrastructure and $100 million toward preparing manufacturers for what the state calls jobs of the future. In many instances, those are clean energy jobs. 

“The passage of the American Rescue Plan is a once in a generation opportunity to bring transformational change to our state,” said Dept. of Labor and Economic Opportunity Director Susan Corbin. “Governor Whitmer’s plan will create good-paying jobs and addresses longstanding structural challenges that were exasperated by the pandemic while expanding economic opportunity and prosperity for all Michiganders.”