By Luke Forrest, executive director
This week marks the official start date of Michigan’s newest state agency, the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO). It’s not an event that seems to have garnered much attention, which maybe isn’t surprising given that it’s August—it’s been more than two months since the department was first announced, and government structural shifts don’t typically get the blood boiling. At CEDAM, though, we think it’s worth taking a moment to pause and mark the occasion.
Governor Whitmer deserves credit for focusing her administration’s resources on the topic of “economic opportunity.” The timing couldn’t be better, as people across Michigan are facing growing wealth inequality, declining social mobility, and an affordable housing crisis. The United Way’s ALICE project found that 43 percent of our households struggle to afford basic necessities.
I could go on, but suffice it to say there is no shortage of problems for the new department to tackle. The good news? There are many potential allies and partners ready to help. CEDAM, among many others, has programs, resources, and policy ideas centered around economic opportunity. We encourage LEO, as the new department is already being called, to maximize its limited resources by defining the top economic opportunity challenges of the state and serving as a coordinator of all its allies in and outside of state government.
Economic opportunity likely means something slightly different to everyone. Here at CEDAM, it means, among other things:
- Tackling the housing affordability crisis by training the next generation of community-oriented developers and funding the state’s Housing and Community Development Fund
- Expanding access to post-secondary opportunities through Children’s Saving Accounts
- Building financial literacy through programs like the Michigan Economic Impact Coalition and Show Me the Money Day
- Adding capacity to local community development organizations through the Community Development Fellowship and AmeriCorps VISTA* and by collaborating with organizations like Community Development Advocates of Detroit, Building the Engine of Community Development in Detroit, and the Michigan Rural Council
I am sure our members and friends will have many other examples of positive economic opportunity initiatives already underway, and I look forward to hearing any and all thoughts. CEDAM looks forward to working with LEO Director Jeff Donofrio and his new department, MSHDA, MEDC, and the entire Whitmer administration, to create economic opportunity for all Michigan residents.
*Fun fact: The first time “economic opportunity” was used in the title of a government agency was during the LBJ administration. His Office of Economic Opportunity, led by Sargent Shriver, housed the inaugural VISTA program as well as a number of initiatives as part of the administration’s “War on Poverty.”