Can a Governor Actually Help the Economy?

By: Tony Tagliavia
By: Tony Tagliavia

“Jobs” is, perhaps, the word used most often in the gubernatorial campaign.

And that's just fine, thank you, for many of the businesses gathered at a Jackson County business expo.

Heather Smith of United Employment says a governor can do a lot for companies like hers.

"Maybe tax credits toward small business owners. That could help," she said.

Or, she says, more focus on entrepreneurship to build a new generation of Michigan small businessmen and women.

David Swan with Mid-America Machining has his own ideas of what a governor can do.

"They can help higher education people in the state of Michigan. That would certainly help the employers of Michigan," Swan said.

But economists say there are limits to what the candidates for governor can do for the Michigan economy.

"If I had been governor, or you'd been governor or Alan Greenspan had been governor for the last four years, the Michigan economy wouldn't look much different than it does now," Michigan State University economist Charles Ballard said.

That's not to say the governor plays no role. It's just that, Ballard says, a governor's economic decisions will likely be felt years later, not immediately. Other economists agree.

"Any candidate for the office should have a solid plan for the future," said economist Okan Kavuncu with Public Sector Consultants in Lansing.

In Michigan, for example, Kavuncu says leaders need to point the economy away from an industrial focus and toward the knowledge economy.

Steps like investing in education and training, cutting business taxes or investing in growing sectors like biotechnology can help in that push.

"It's important for a candidate to say look, I can make a difference. I think they can make a difference," Ballard said.

But it's a difference he says is easy to overstate.

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