by Chris Wendel, Regional Director, MI-SBTDC
We’ve heard much talk lately about the “knowledge economy” and its role in our national, state, and local situations. From a broad perspective the knowledge economy refers to the transition from an activity centered on the production of manufactured goods to value placed on human capital including cutting edge ideas, technology and information. While some may argue the exact definition of the term knowledge economy, we all know that many of the traditional rules of economics no longer apply to what’s happened to our national economy in the past year.
Michigan is an example of how this transition can be painful, when a large percentage of economic activity traditionally depended on high paying employment assembling hard goods (can you say Big Three?) rather than employment requiring a high tech education and skill set.
Today most of the world’s thriving urban centers have high concentrations of young people who are well educated, earn high salaries, and are will versed in this knowledge economy tenants. The internet is the centerpiece in this era of quick transition, spreading new information to people in different parts of the globe, accelerating the opportunities for technology advancement, and creating tremendous opportunities for those who are forging ground breaking ideas.
How does this translate to the economy of Northern Michigan? First, the world is now our marketplace with the internet making us closer than ever to large scale commerce both domestically and world wide. One no longer has to necessarily live in an urban center to regularly participate, work, and interact with other large scale businesses. Instant media coverage makes all of us less isolated from what is cutting edge while business and social networking creates an environment of small market niche opportunities that can be exploited over an ever expanding geographic landscape.
Our area’s highly valued quality of life is the backbone that already attracts a high caliber work force that lives here by choice and does business many times from an up north “virtual office”. A sector of the young population (age 25-35) mentioned earlier is increasingly moving to Northwest Michigan, in search of a certain lifestyle, while being well equipped for navigating the knowledge economy, and possessing a strong vigor for technology, arts, and the environment.
In many ways our region has already made a somewhat successful transition into a diversified economy that combines both the soft technology of the knowledge economy with a still necessary manufacturing base. Challenges remain in attracting, training, and retaining a talented work force and improving our infrastructure in areas of accessible internet in isolated rural areas. While some are still trying to understand what the knowledge economy is all about, it’s obvious that its impact has already arrived.