I work for the MEDC – the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. I’ve been here for 5 years, and it’s been a wild ride. Over that span of time, I’ve seen the MEDC’s budget shrink by more than 70%. Yeah, seriously – we have about a quarter the money we had 5 years ago. So long as the Governor and the majority of the state legislature are from different political parties, the MEDC gets blasted somehow. Back when it was created (under a different name) by Governor Blanchard, during a time that we had a majority-democrat legislature, we had plenty of funding and lots of support for what we were doing from everybody but the republican minority, who abhorred the “corporate welfare” we were handing out. When we had a republican governor, with a democratic legislature, we were mothballed until our congress swung to the right. For the last 4 years, we’ve had a Democrat for Governor, a Republican-majority State Legislature, and consequently, some huge hits to our budget and ability to perform our jobs (for those that kept them – we lost 20% of our workforce, too).Throughout that whole time, when we’ve been loved, then hated, loved, then hated again, there’s always been one group of people convinced that we weren’t doing enough to help them: “Joe Six-pack.”In America, the demographic identity of the mysterious Joe Six-pack can take many forms. In Michigan, Joe is an auto industry worker who’s job is either a memory, or about to become one. Joe is pretty damned pissed right now, and if they know much about the MEDC or Economic Development in general, they are especially pissed at us. Why? Well, from Joe’s perspective, we are at the very best not doing enough to protect their livelihood. The manufacturing sector, automotive manufacturing in particular, is rapidly going down the drain. Those jobs are going overseas at a break-neck speed. Consequently, Michigan is losing hundreds of thousands of jobs, those elusive “high-paying, middle-class jobs” every politician worth their salt promises to make tons of just as soon as they get elected and/or those jerks in the other party get out of their way.It’s all true, of course – highly paid manufacturing jobs are becoming harder and harder to come by in Michigan (and every other state in the union). All of those high school-educated (sometimes more, sometimes less-so) people who’ve been working on the line are suddenly on their own, trained for a job that doesn’t exist in this state (or country) anymore. The MEDC is indeed not trying too hard to protect those jobs, in part because they don’t think they should, but mostly because they can’t.And that’s why, at our all-MEDC forum this morning, somebody stood up during the Q & A and expressed their concern over what we tell these people when they want to know why we’re investing our dwindling funds into the kind of jobs that Joe six-pack aren’t even close to being qualified for: Life sciences jobs, Advanced technologies like alternative energy. In short, jobs and businesses which pay gobs of money to a handful of egghead scientists. What good does it do to give the company making next-gen solar panels a few million dollars to employ another 5-6 PhD’s at a business that is a decade away from maybe creating the “next big thing,” when the biggest industry/employers in the state (by a very wide margin) continue to hemorrhage jobs?Our CEO (whom I like, by the way, and I’m not saying that because if I said I thought he had his head up his *** and he saw this, I would be out of a job – I honestly think he’s doing a great job) had a lot to say about this subject. He acknowledged that concern and discussed our responsibility to Joe and his ilk, and how difficult it is to give them a decent answer. And although I promised myself to NOT open my trap like I do at every forum I’ve been to, I simply had to say something. Even more troublesome for me, I intended to disagree with our CEO. I don’t think the answer to “what about Joe?” is a difficult one at all. On the contrary, the answer is easy. It’s accepting that answer’s consequences that is difficult.The reason why the MEDC invests so heavily in new technologies and the businesses that promise to create them is because, in the long run, that’s where the “good jobs” are going to come from. By way of example, I used Thomas Edison’s premiere achievement: The electric light bulb.Before I continue, let me say this: I know full-well that the little nuggets you read in high school history books are often caricatures of what really happened. I realize that Thomas Edison employed tons of people who were all working on the light bulb and the DC power distribution system to run it. And, for the record, I think Tesla’s fluorescent bulb and alternating current were clearly better solutions to their respective problems. For the purposes of my comment at the forum, and my increasingly verbose explanation thereof, however, let’s pretend that Edison’s achievement was as easily-digested as the textbooks make it out to be.Anyway, my point was that Edison’s light bulb in and of itself, cost a whole lot of money and created a very, very small amount of light. That first light bulb frankly didn’t do much. In fact, if nothing else came of that light bulb, one could easily call all that money spent on making it a very poor investment indeed, and when compared to all the people that could be fed with the dollars spent on making it, it’s practically a crime.Of course, that’s not what happened. The electric light bulb is one of the premiere achievements of human history, most especially from an economic standpoint. Sure, the first bulb didn’t employ many people, but once the technology was there, hundreds of jobs were created making them: blowing the glass, making the filaments, assembling the bulbs, putting them in boxes, shipping them – and that’s just the beginning. Houses had to be wired, fixtures installed, etc. Then, with electric lights, factories could run around-the-clock. At the end of all this, Edison’s little glass bulb arguably created millions of jobs. It took one genius (sorta – see my above caveat) to make the light bulb, but it took a few million Joe Six-packs to make the billions of bulbs and put them to use.So, the answer to the question “what are you doing for Joe?” is “trying to make the next light bulb, to ensure little Joe Jr. will have a job.” But like I said, the answer is easy enough to come by – everybody knows that you invest in the future if you want to make it a promising one. The hard part about this equation is the result of this strategy on today’s Joe Six-pack.Coincidentally, the automotive industry is almost as old as the light bulb. It’s about a hundred years old, in fact. There are another couple of things that cars and light bulbs have in common: fewer and fewer people make them in the U.S., and the ones that still do are probably worried that they won’t for much longer. Of course, after a century or more, is it really all that surprising?Look, the auto industry in Michigan had a good run, great even. But ever since I could understand the news, I’ve been hearing about how the Japanese were making better cars for less, and how Mexico and China were where the automotive manufacturing jobs were heading. That means that I can personally attest to Michigan having a 25 year-long warning that the situation we’re currently in was coming.I guess I can see how Joe Six-pack would be pissed: Where in the Hell are the next-gen jobs meant to replace the old ones Joe used to work? Why is it that we are in a position in Michigan where so many people have no job to transition into? Sure, part of it is the curmudgeon-y nature of Joe Six-pack: “I’m (insert age between 35 and 60) years old, why the hell should I have to learn a new profession now?!” But there’s more to the problem than that. Why the hell did this come as such a surprise? Why didn’t the auto industry itself prepare for this? Where were the legislators and economic developers 25 years ago, with talk of diversifying our economy in Michigan so we could actually handle this impending crisis? Back when Computers were the next big thing (right around that 25 years ago period I was just discussing), what did we do with it? We put them in cars, God help us. Meanwhile, Silicon Valley boomed, then busted, then faced the same manufacturing issues we are. But hey – at least they were driving the economy to new heights while we were already lamenting our industry’s impending demise…while doing little to help.The auto industry, and the state virtually completely dependant on it, wasn’t doing enough, if anything, to prevent this state’s collapse, and that’s wrong. Unfortunately, it’s also in the past, and therefore nothing we can fix. At this point, our best bet is to spend our economic development dollars shoring-up the “big three” as little as is possible while still preventing a rapid implosion to our economy, and hope to God we find the next Edison soon, invest in that light bulb, so maybe Joe Jr. has a future here.Naturally, I didn't say all that at the forum. Really, all I said was that Edison was one guy that made a light bulb, but millions of people were employed because of him - that's what you tell the out-of-work or soon-to-be-so Joe Six-pack when he asks what a $4 million investment in Acvaned Solar Technologies means for him. Changing a whole state's economy takes time, and we were late in doing so. It's the truth, and it's all we can do at this point.It's a Goddamned shame that's all we can say, though. I just hope that Scrim Jr. doesn't have to say the same thing at a forum about Joe Six-Pack Jr.