- In 2003, Gov. Jennifer Granholm launched a "Cool Cities Program" aimed at "building vibrant, energetic cities that attract jobs, people and opportunity to Michigan." The program is based on the work of Richard Florida, an economic development professor at Carnegie Mellon University and author of "The Rise of the Creative Class." Florida's thesis is that significant economic activity can be spurred by attracting creative people – and particularly young people – to cities through arts, entertainment and street life.
But whatever the program's academic pedigree, can bureaucrats really determine what's "cool"? The program appears likely to lose its way and simply redistribute wealth in the state, suggesting that there are better ways to develop Michigan's economy.
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Gov. Granholm's attempts to revitalize Michigan's economy through the Cool Cities initiative might seem honorable, but it is ironic that the state is handing out hundreds of thousands of dollars in dubious grants at a time when legislators are debating the per-pupil funding for schools, money for higher education and restraining Medicaid benefits. With Michigan's unemployment rate skyrocketing to 7.1 percent in May – tying with Mississippi for the highest unemployment rate in the nation – perhaps it is time for the state to reexamine its priorities. It should shift its focus to providing a secure environment that is open to new business by restructuring the single business tax, rationalizing its regulatory environment and removing other roadblocks to economic development.
Be sure to check out previous posts on "cool cities" here, here, and here. And don't forget to re-read Chris Fiscelli's piece from Privatization Watch last year on the limits of using public policy to create "cool."