Mobility Moments Podcast: Embedded at Mackinac Policy Conference with Mark Muro

Driven - Mobility Moments: Mark Muro, Brookings Institution

From Michigan's picturesque Mackinac Island, I'm Claire Charlton, your host for a special edition of Driven's Mobility Moments Podcast: Embedded at the Mackinac Policy Conference.

I'm here with Mark Muro, senior fellow and policy director with the Metropolitan Policy Program of the Brookings Institution. Mark's joined me in a quiet space just off the parlor and we're talking about advanced industry that matters the most, the new mobility economy, and workforce preparation in the Detroit region and throughout Michigan.

Thanks for joining us. Let's get started.


Before we dive in, is this your first time on Mackinac Island or are you a seasoned traveler?


It is! I'm here on the island, and hope I don't get booted off the island for anything I've got to say. Yeah.

What highlight do you have from your experience of the island so far?

Well, let's see. The first hour has been really great. Landfall is cool. Lots of splashing water on our high speed ferry. It just seems really intense. Great discussions though. I've already monitored one on workforce stuff. Just really great to see leaders from the state really try to hack out what the future's going to be. It seems like that's going on here.

Let's talk about the regional technology ecosystems. What does "regional" mean?

Well, first, yeah. We have a national economy, but it's not evenly distributed, right? We all know that different regions have different things they're good at. That's the regional part. Regions are the basis of the economy. In every economy, we have a labor market. We have networks of suppliers. We have clusters of companies, companies that are working with each other. How does the local university or community college fit in to all of that? That's the ecosystem.

We think some ecosystems work better than others. Some are focused on different things. They often have a specialization. It's very important to think not just what the Michigan economy is, but what's the Detroit economy? What's the Grand Rapids economy? Those are the ecosystems and we think those are fundamental basis of how places succeed.

Recently, you led some research that was about advanced industries and trends in the United States. Can you give us an idea of what that research showed, especially for the Detroit region?

Yeah. Absolutely. We don't think all industries matter equally. Some industries are especially important because they're centers of innovation. They're centers of high paying jobs. They're centers of STEM work, which we know is important. We set out to measure how the United States is doing but how are all 300 metropolitan areas doing on their presence of what we call advanced industries? These are high R&D, STEM-intensive, technical industries. They're not just technology. They're advanced manufacturing, advanced energy. Lots of digital and biotech is part of it.

We measured that for every place. Detroit actually looks very good for its presence of these industries that we're saying are the ones that matter most. Of course, all industries are important, but advanced industries are huge centers of export, of innovation. Detroit is a very strong national center of advanced industry. Obviously the great history in auto, but all kinds of engineering based industries, increasingly digital presence, advanced energy is happening. Detroit is a top 10 player and I think it's in the top five for the number of different advanced industries it has.

That's extremely important that you not just have a lot of these jobs, but you have many different industries that are interacting with each other. Just another way innovation happens. We think this is a good measurement for Detroit and an important thing to be focused on.

So it's not just deep, it's broad as well?

Yeah and they're interacting. They're collisions. You're seeing this now. New mobility is a collision of all kinds of industries at once. I think that gives you depth that a newcomer region isn't going to have that just happens to get into one niche or part of this.

Can we talk about what your research says about workforce preparation with regard to meeting the needs of these advanced industries?

Great question. First, by definition, we say advanced industries typically have a STEM intensive workforce, so they're technical industries. You better have the building of the pipeline of great STEM talent. That's one thing. Newer research we've been adding shows that digitalization is really important too. Maybe even the most important as new mobility begins to move into an automated, robotic, much more software-driven future.

On this, Detroit doesn't look quite as good, but it looks quite strong. This is the basic knowledge, not just of pure coding, but the ability of the whole workforce to use digital technologies. We measured that actually. We measured using federal data that looks at the amount of time that people say they use digital technologies in their job and the depth of their understanding. Detroit is an upper quarter and Michigan is quite strong in the upper third of states. That's encouraging. We think that just digital facilities are going to be more and more important going forward. I think that's going to be very important for this region is for building out the whole new mobility suite of technologies. Can you have a deep enough pipeline of really great digital talent?

What is Michigan doing right, and maybe what is it doing wrong with regard to policy for developing that workforce?

I think that the state has really piled on to this issue more recently. I think for a long time, the state could drift a bit because so much was tied up into industrial auto. I think the recognition that the auto industry itself as a digital industry has struck people. In the last decade, I think the state is really beginning to focus on it. You had an early apprenticeship program. That's important. You've had other important education and digital initiatives. I think the governor in the last year rolled out some digital training, digital education.

I will say the states need to compete here because other states are piling into this. Colorado and South Carolina have huge aspirations on apprenticeships and experience-based learning and technical learning. A number of states are moving towards universal computer science training in schools. A state like Arkansas now requires every kid to have coding as part of their K-12 experience. Those are the kinds of things that the state's got to now be thinking about I think.

Okay. All right. Keep running, and run faster and harder.

Yeah. You're a leader in the new mobility space but others want to enter. That's where this competition is going to be really important. I think skills are the thing that ultimately decides which of these ecosystems move up and which move down.

Skills are important. Anything else you'd like to add about your research with regard to the mobility economy here in Detroit?

I think state policy is absolutely crucial but it has to be state policies that support also regional strengths. Ann Arbor needs different things from the state than Detroit does in this case. It's very important to have a strong but flexible state policies. There's going to be no way around big investments in digital skills. Really important.

Excellent. Thank you so much for joining me. One last question. What are you looking forward to doing on this beautiful island while you are here? Are you going to ride a horse or are you going to ride a bicycle? What are you going to do?

No, I'm a bike guy. Hoping to grab a bike after this and cruise around a bit.

You are in the right place. Thank you so much for joining me, Mark. I really appreciate it. Take care.

That's great. Thanks so much, Claire. Take care.

There's much more from the Mackinac Policy Conference at Driven, where we talk about the Detroit region leading the world in next generation mobility. Find us at Subscribe to our newsletter. Read our features and news and listen to our podcast interviews with mobility industry leaders. I'll see you there.

For Driven's Mobility Moments Podcast, I'm Claire Charlton.

Signup for Email Alerts