Michigan entrepreneurs have a long track record of innovation and job creation. As they chase their dreams, opportunity is created for families and the economic base that our state depends upon is built.
Since the depths of the pandemic, Michigan has seen an explosion of entrepreneurship as more people are starting small businesses. If we want this growth to be sustainable, we need real partnership with state departments like the Unemployment Insurance Agency.
Small businesses are our state’s largest job provider, and recently we’ve seen small business growth that outpaced the rest of the country. The pandemic has proven what we knew: when times get tough, Michiganders get creative, get innovative, and get to work.
If we want Michigan to be the best place to do business, our state needs to reward and support grassroots entrepreneurship. There is a lot of attention paid to attracting new businesses, but it is more important that we focus on establishing a supportive environment for existing Michigan businesses and ensure that our state government is a strong partner in that endeavor.
The Michigan UIA is critical to this mission, yet historically, the organization has not always provided Michiganders the quality services they deserve. Small business owners have noticed a marked change in action and engagement with the appointment of Director Julia Dale. She has made it her mission to support Michigan workers and businesses, fight fraud and come up with real solutions to build a better system.
In addition to the department’s work going after fraud and fixing previous overpayments and issues that were aggravated by the pandemic, the UIA’s newly-formed Modernization Workgroup is an innovative approach to building real change. The workgroup is made up of voices from Michigan’s business, labor, and jobless advocacy organizations. Among its goals are stabilizing, growing and protecting the UI trust fund during future adverse economic conditions, creating ways to support businesses and their workforce, streamlining communications and interactions to make it easier for Michigan workers and businesses to navigate the UI system and ensuring payments arrive in a timely and efficient manner.
As small business owners know all too well, time is precious. Small business owners wear several hats, work long hours and often are working hard to turn a profit and be able to support their workforce. By establishing this coalition, it indicates not only the agency’s willingness to listen to some of its toughest critics but allows us to best inform the agency of challenges each group faces, tackle issues proactively and build a stronger system.
As the Small Business Association of Michigan’s (SBAM) own Entrepreneurship Scorecard indicates, in the last two years, annual revenues for small businesses in Michigan grew over 24 percent — and we’re seeing this growth across a wide range of industries. With the expansion of the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, we are hopeful that Michigan’s labor force participation rate will recover to at least pre-pandemic levels. These developments are encouraging, but we need responsive, efficient government to make it sustainable.
This new workgroup — and SBAM’s participation in it — shows that the leadership of Michigan’s unemployment agency is dedicated to real engagement with stakeholders. Director Dale has shown interest and empathy through listening and learning from our experiences. That’s a great start and it gives us more confidence that our work together will bear fruit. It is a demonstration of real leadership, and it’s going to result in a transformed system for business owners and unemployed workers alike.
Brian Calley is the Chief Executive Officer of the Small Business Association of Michigan, former Lieutenant Governor of Michigan and disability rights advocate who serves on various boards, including Special Olympics Michigan, Sparrow Health System, Disability Rights Michigan, and the Autism Alliance of Michigan.