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Jobs An Issue In Lansing Mayor's Race

By Scott Pohl, WKAR News



When voters cast their ballots for mayor in Lansing next week, many will be thinking about their jobs. Thousands have lost the job they had on election day four years ago.

WKAR's Scott Pohl reports on how the local unemployment numbers could affect the election.

AUDIO: Last month, the unemployment figure for the Lansing Metropolitan Statistical Area encompassing Ingham, Eaton, and Clinton counties stood at 11%. Bad as that might sound, it was more than four percentage points lower than the state's jobless rate.

Despite an upward trend, Lansing's unemployment rate has been better than the state's by a point or two since 2000. That has held true for the four years of the administration of mayor Virg Bernero.

Still, manufacturing jobs have been lost, and growth in information technology and health care fields has been slow in Lansing.

One key to turning things around might be to focus on the Creative Class...young Americans who create for a living. That covers professions from biotech, to architecture, to small business.

Kate Tycocki of Capital Area Michigan Works! says it's a chicken-and-egg thing. Do you have to create the sort of place where the Creative Class wants to live, or do job opportunities bring those people here, where they go on to create the sort of place where they want to live? She says both are happening in Lansing.

"The Creative Class is taking ownership," Tycocki says, "and starting to just do fun, unique things that they want, and on the other hand, you're starting to see developments in the type of housing available, and the type of entertainment and shopping available, that this demographic really prefers."

One local organization attracting the Creative Class is the Grand River Connection. At a recent function, business attorney Vince Pecora said it's important to focus on jobs and the standard of living those jobs will provide.

"You know, we all want to see Lansing grow," Pecora says, "and we all want to make sure that there's a reason for young professionals to move here, and the highly-educated workforce to come here. And the way that's going to happen is for bigger industry to come in, bigger business to create more jobs. That's really all it comes down to. Economy first."

Mayor Virg Bernero says his administration has retained thousands of jobs. He's proud of his fight to save General Motors. He also credits his Economic Development Corporation team for working to add two legs to what has been called the city's three-legged employment stool of cars, capital, and campus: insurance, and high-tech. And for those unable to find a job, he points to efforts to develop local entrepreneurs.

"Well, we've got a number of great help available for that," Bernero says, "including the Small Business Development Center at Lansing Community College. Our EDC office is a great place to start. We will lay out the red carpet and not the red tape. We will do everything we can to assist somebody in starting a business."

Challenger Carol Wood says there's more the city could be doing to invite entrepreneurship. She says she can't point to one thing that has been inventive in job creation from the Bernero administration.

One of the city councilwoman's ideas is to encourage the state to use Lansing as a test city for jobs-related programs. Legislators from all over the state, she says, could easily observe what's working.

"It demonstrates for them whether that policy, whether that money that they're looking at putting in, whether it will work or not," Wood says. "Then, it also demonstrates what are the weaknesses, so that if it's not working, what can we do to tweak it before we dump all this money into it?"

That sort of thing, Wood says, can be an incubator for jobs that are attractive to the Creative Class.

As for those who can't find work, Kate Tycocki of Capital Area Michigan Works! says there's evidence that Lansing's Creative Class IS starting to launch self-employment endeavors in the city. How the Creative Class votes could be a big factor in keeping Virg Bernero in office, or promoting Carol Wood to the mayor's job.

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