Perhaps you can find a time in your life when conditions have been more difficult in Michigan, but I have been unable to do so.
The state unemployment rate is approaching double digits.
The Big Three automakers continue to announce cutbacks as they try to scale back their business model to match declining vehicle sales projections.
The state of Michigan, city of Detroit and Detroit Public Schools all face multimillion-dollar deficits. The Detroit Lions are on the brink of setting another National Football League record for futility with the league’s first 0-16 season.
A recent “State of the Year” award for Michigan from Business Facilities magazine was welcome but seemed almost a cruel joke. It preceded by just days — and was drowned out — by additional distressing numbers.
The Pacific Research Institute “Freedom Index” — based on 143 variables ranging from tax policy to regulations to the state’s judiciary — ranked Michigan 43rd out of 50 states.
The U.S. Census Bureau found that Michigan lost the most population in the year ended July 1, one of just two states that lost people. About 46,000 more Michiganians left our state, most for Florida, according to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, making our state the leader in population decline and threatening to cost us a seat in Congress.
So why do the rest of us stay? Each of us has personal reasons involving family, friends and our professional life. But there’s much more to us than what those on the outside must see as a “sucker” mentality.
We stay, most of all, because we are by nature an optimistic people who are convinced that we can endure all our challenges and overcome them. That’s the nature of the human spirit, and nowhere is it more in evidence than here in Michigan.
We stay because of our surroundings, the natural beauty of our lakes and our beaches, because of our suburbs and sanctuaries, because of Tawas and Traverse City, because of Frankfort and Frankenmuth, because of Munising and Mackinac Island. We’ve even learned to love our winters.
We stay because we have great colleges from the University of Michigan, where President Mary Sue Coleman strives to maintain a nationwide reputation for excellence, to Michigan State University, where President Lou Anna Simon is intent on matching or surpassing that standard. We have pride in our ability to educate those who want to learn.
We stay because of people, auto industry figures like General Motors Corp. Chairman Rick Wagoner, Ford Motor Co. Chief Executive Alan Mulally, Chrysler LLC CEO Robert Nardelli and United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger, whose ideas and leadership are expected to revive industry sales and employment. We trust these scions of business and labor to fight for what will benefit all of us.
We stay because of other people, such as Roger Penske, Doug Rothwell, Mike Flanagan, Christopher Ilitch, L. Brooks Patterson, Bob Ficano, Peter Karmanos, Rod Alberts, Kent Clark, Clark Durant, Jack Krasula, Jim Epolito, Joe Harris, Joseph Lehman and so many others, some of whose names you would recognize and some whose names you wouldn’t.
But each represents what is special in us, acknowledges problems around them with a nod and then acts to move beyond those hurdles to make our city and state a better place through ideas and actions engendered by a caring and fighting spirit.
In the end, that’s what will keep us here heading into a new, uncertain year — that spirit that refuses to bow to the temptation to turn out the lights as the last to leave, rather to leave the lights burning brightly while we declare: Bring it on.