GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Gov. Rick Snyder says he wants to put experienced workers back into the workforce in part by matching their skills with growing companies that need experience.
The remarks came at a town hall Tuesday night hosted by WOOD TV8. 50 people between the ages of 15 and 86 were in the studio audience. The governor touted an Ann Arbor-area program dubbed "Shifting Gears" that he said he helped to create.
"What 'Shifting Gears' was all about was taking people that had a successful career in one field where there weren't really many openings any more, but to say you've got all the skills to do a certain set of work," he said. "How can we work with you to get you in a young company, a start up company, something new and different where you can take those vast experiences and potentially match up with some other people that don't understand the businesses areas that you're so good at," said the governor.
Snyder said he is going to try to "roll out that concept throughout all of Michigan."
The answer came in reponse to a question from Grant Wright, a Lowell man looking for work.
"What I want to know is about the long-term unemployed and also the older workers -- what are we going to do to give employers an incentive to get us back to work?" he asked.
In his response, the governor also talked about bringing more supplier companies into Michigan, using the example of laundry firms that service hospitals.
Interviewed after the meeting, Wright said he thought the answer he received was a good one. Wright said he thought the governor was encountering resistance from people unwilling to change.
But Wright said he does believe the economy needs "some more incentive to hire the older workers, the qualified people like myself."
His question was followed immediately by a question from Sheri Welsh, a Kalamazoo woman who owns a firm that helps companies find employees.
In at least some cases, companies are looking for skills Michigan workers -- and the unemployed -- don't have, she said.
"How do we get the skills that they need to get them back to work right now?" Welsh asked.
Snyder said he will address the question of talent -- the workforce -- during a "special message" in November.
Acknowledging that this legislative session has been a busy one, 24 Hour News 8 asked the governor why the plans have not come out sooner when so many are looking for work.
"You have to pick your priorities and if you look at it, the history of tax and budget in our state ... the budget had to come first. It was legally required but it was also a case of past challenges," he said.
Snyder noted that, at times, the budget hasn't been completed until the very last minute in the fall. The governor said he has focused on economic development but there has to be some order dictating which items are tackled when.
Some who did not get to ask questions during the session -- including Michael Niewata of Grand Rapids -- had one-on-one time with Snyder afterward.
Niewata is looking for work and had to dip into his retirement funds. Now he says he's about to be hit with the new pension tax.
The Grand Rapids man argues that retirement income should be taxed at the same level regardless of age, though he says state workers promised a pension should be left alone.
"It's too difficult to have to go back to readjust when you thought you had a promise," he said.
After speaking with the governor, Niewata said it did not appear Snyder was receptive to changing his policy. Niewata will be hoping for a decision from the Michigan Supreme Court striking down the tax.
Other topics brought up were education reform, standards and funding, the state sales tax and immigration.
Film tax credits were also brought up, and Snyder answered by saying the film credits were "a losing proposition" for the state, whereas an expense like Pure Michigan - the state's advertising campaign for tourism - is a much better return on investment.
The governor also said a new bridge from Michigan into Windsor to is ultimately about jobs and making Michigan more competitive in the future.
He also said making Michigan a "right to work" state is "not on my agenda," adding that there are more pressing issues that need to be handled first - education, health, taxes - without diving into this "divisive issue."
You can watch the complete meeting here.
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