Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Michigan in 2010

I'll be posting a lot on the 2010 data for Michigan, but let's start with a depressing post on Michigan's ten largest cities. These cities tell a depressing tell a depressing tale in 2010. Check out this Google document for the ten largest cities in the State of Michigan as of 2010:


You can see a slow but steady drop in population among all of Michigan's core cities (Detroit, GR, Flint and Lansing), while the core suburbs (Warren, Sterling Heights, Dearborn, and Livonia pretty much peaked in 1980, and have seen their population remain static or decline. Only Ann Arbor has seen its population increase, although it too has remained static since 1990.

I could pull the records back further, but I think that the last two rows tell the larger story of Michigan's decline. The population of its large cities/suburbs, have dropped from being 39% of the population in 1950 to 17% today. Detroit in follows this decline, falling from containing 29% of Michigan's total population in 1950 to 7% in 2010. Until Michigan's core cities, including Detroit, start growing again, I can't see an easy way to improve the state.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Excellent Post from Rustwire

I read an excellent post from Rustwire.com by Andrew Basile, Jr., a CEO of a company based in Troy, Michigan. I've posted the post in full-below, in part because I think it is important for people to realize that a good business environment is more than just low taxes. Enjoy and discuss.

From: Andrew Basile, Jr
Sent: Friday, July 30, 2010 12:16 PM
Subject: Why our growing firm may have to leave Michigan.


I hope you find this essay of interest/value. It’s probably something you’ve heard a million times but I thought I ought to at least try to vocalize it rather than silently surrender.

We have a patent law firm in Troy. In 2006, our firm’s legacy domestic automotive business collapsed. We rebuilt our practice with out-of-state clients in a range of industries, including clients like Google, Nissan and Abbott Labs, located in the US, Japan, Europe and China.

Today, we have 40 highly-paid employees and much of our work now comes from out of state. This makes us a service exporter. We are very proud of the contribution our firm makes to the local economy. We also created a not-for-profit incubator using excess space in our office. The incubator is home to 4 start-ups, all of which are generating revenue and two of which have started employing people. This is something we do without charge as a charity to help the state.

We’d like to stay in Michigan, but we have a problem. It’s not taxes or regulations. There’s lots of talk about these issues but they have no impact on our business. We spend more on copiers and toner than we do on state taxes.

Our problem is access to talent. We have high-paying positions open for patent attorneys in the software and semiconductor space. Even though it is one of the best hiring environments for IP firms in 40 years, we cannot fill these positions. Most qualified candidates live out of state and simply will not move here, even though they are willing to relocate to other cities. Our recruiters are very blunt. They say it is almost impossible to recruit to Michigan without paying big premiums above competitive salaries on the coasts.

It’s nearly a certainty that we will have to relocate (or at a minimum expand) our business out of Michigan if we want to grow. People – particularly affluent and educated people – just don’t want to live here. For example, below are charts of migration patterns based on IRS data Black is inbound, red is outbound. Even though the CA economy is in very bad shape, there is still a mass migration to San Francisco vs. mass outbound migration from Oakland County (most notably to cities like SF, LA, Dallas, Atlanta, NY, DC, Boston, and Philly) San Fran only seems to be losing people to Portland, a place with even more open space and higher quality urban environments.

Recession or no, isn’t it screamingly obvious that people with choices in life – i.e. people with money and education – choose not to live here? We are becoming a place where people without resources are grudgingly forced to live. A place without youth, prospects, respect, money or influence.

There’s a simple reason why many people don’t want to live here: it’s an unpleasant place because most of it is visually unattractive and because it is lacking in quality living options other than tract suburbia. Some might call this poor “quality of life.” A better term might be poor “quality of place.” In Metro Detroit, we have built a very bad physical place. We don’t have charming, vibrant cities and we don’t have open space.

Having moved here from California five years ago, I will testify that Metro Detroit is a very hard place to live. Ask any former Detroiter in California, and you will hear a consistent recital of the flaws that make Metro Detroit so unattractive. Things are spread too far apart. You have to drive everywhere. There’s no mass transit. There are no viable cities. Lots of it is really ugly, especially the mile after mile of sterile and often dingy suburban strip shopping and utility wires that line our dilapidated roads (note above). There’s no nearby open space for most people (living in Birmingham, it’s 45 minutes in traffic to places like Proud Lake or Kensington). It’s impossible to get around by bike without taking your life in your hands. Most people lead sedentary lifestyles. There’s a grating “car culture” that is really off-putting to many people from outside of Michigan. I heard these same complaints when I left 25 years ago. In a quarter century, things have only gotten considerably worse.

Ironically, California is supposed to be a sprawling place. In my experience they are pikers compared to us. Did you know that Metro Detroit is one half the density of Los Angeles County? The fundamental problem it seems to me is that our region as gone berserk on suburbia to the expense of having any type of nearby open space or viable urban communities, which are the two primary spatial assets that attract and retain the best human capital. For example, I noted sadly the other day that the entire Oakland Country government complex was built in a field 5 miles outside of downtown Pontiac. I find that decision shocking. What a wasted opportunity for maintaining a viable downtown Pontiac, not to mention the open space now consumed by the existing complex. What possibly could have been going through their minds? Happily, most of the men who made those foolish decisions 30 or 40 years ago are no longer in policy-making roles. A younger generation needs to recognize the immense folly that they perpetrated and begin the costly, decades long task of cleaning up the wreckage.

These are problems, sure, but they could be easily overcome, especially in Oakland County which is widely recognized as one of the best-run large counties in the country. But despite our talents and resources, the region’s problem of place may be intractable for one simple, sorry reason: our political and business leadership does not view poor quality of place as a problem and certainly lacks motivation to address the issue.

Indeed, Brooks Patterson — an otherwise extraordinary leader — claims to love sprawl and says Oakland Country can’t get enough of it. These leaders presume that the region has “great” quality of life (apparently defined as big yards, cull de sacs and a nearby Home Depot). In their minds, we just need to reopen a few more factories and all will be well. The cherished corollary to this is that Michigan and Metro Detroit have an “image” problem and that if only people knew great things were
they would consider living or investing here. The attitude of many in our region is that our problems are confined to Detroit city while the suburbs are thought to be lovely.

We don’t have a perception problem, we have a reality problem. Most young, highly talented knowledge workers from places like Seattle or San Francisco or Chicago find the even the upper end suburbs of Metro Detroit to be unappealing. I think long term residents including many leaders are simply so used to the dreary physical environment of Southeast Michigan that it has come to seem normal, comfortable and maybe even attractive. Which is fine so long as we have no aspiration to attract talent and capital from outside our region.

My fears were confirmed when I began trying to gather local economic development literature to use as a recruiting tool. The deficits which so dog our region are sometimes heralded by this literature as assets. For example, some boosters trumpet our “unrivaled” freeway system as if freeways and sprawl they engender are “quality of life” assets. In San Francisco, the place sucking up all the talent and money, they have removed — literally torn out of the ground — two freeways because people prefer not to have them. I noted one “Quality of Life” page of a Detroit area economic development website featured a prominent picture of an enclosed regional shopping mall! Yuck. It’s theater of the absurd.

The people who put together that website must live in a different cultural universe from the high income/high education people streaming out of Michigan for New York, Chicago, and California. Not only is there no plan to address these issues, I fear that the public and their elected leaders in Michigan don’t even recognize the problem or want change. We have at least one bright spot in the nascent urban corridor between Pontiac, and Ferndale, which is slowly building a critical mass of
walkable urban assets. At the same time, there’s no coordinated effort to develop this. Indeed, MDOT officials lie awake at night thinking of ways to thwart the efforts of local communities along Woodward to become more walkable. Another symptom the region’s peculiar and self-destructive adoration of the automobile. Even though the Big Three are a tiny shadow of their former selves, Michigan is still locked
in the iron grip of their toxic cultural legacy.

I’d like to hang on another five years. I feel like we’re making a difference. But by the same token, I don’t see any forward progress or even an meaningful attempt at forward progress. It’s almost like the people running things are profoundly disconnected from the reality that many if not most talented knowledge workers find our region’s paradigm of extreme suburbanization to be highly unattractive. It seems
to me that we are halfway through a 100 year death spiral in which the forces in support of the status quo become relatively stronger as people with vision and ambition just give up and leave. As we descend this death spiral, we must in my mind be approaching the point of no return, where the constituency for reform dwindles below a critical threshold and the region’s path of self destruction becomes unalterable.

Thank you for considering my views. I welcome any opportunity to be of help to any efforts you may have to fix this.
Andrew Basile, Jr.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

2010 Recap Part III: Recalling the Past

I have put off writing the two remaining sections of analysis of the 2010 election in Michigan in part because I am still waiting on voter file data to arrive from the Secretary of State, as well as receiving corrected voter tallies from November. When that does arrive I will do a final write up on results.

However, the political events of the past few weeks in Wisconsin, as well as the forthcoming school district elections in early May in Michigan (along with the municipal general election for blog readers in Texas), have motivated me to write a third post on a rather timely topic: field operations. With labor confident of recalling a number of Republican state senators in Wisconsin, and local campaigns making promises to bring an unprecedented number of voters to the polls in many states, any realistic campaigner needs to throw the old campaign playbook out the window.

In 2004 Donald Green and Alan Gerber came out with a great little book entitled Get Out the Vote: How to Increase Voter Turnout. The book was significantly updated in 2008 with additional case studies, but the basic message remained the same: traditional campaign methods that have developed over the past thirty years are rather worthless. Green and Gerber scientifically analyzed turnout measures used by over 75 campaigns between 1998 and 2007, and determined the cost effectiveness of various turnout methods. Think sending a robocall with Bill Clinton reminding your base voters to vote will increase turnout? Green and Gerber find that robocalls have no effect on increasing turnout. Does doing three hits of direct mail to flood voters’ mailboxes in the last weekend of the campaign send people flying to vote? Once again, there is no evidence of any effect. In the same way, television ads, direct mail, and commercial phone banking has a minimal impact on increasing voter turnout. Give that the television market is very fragmented among basic and cable channels, the impact of advertisement on the airwaves is lost in a world of information overload. Similarly, Facebook and other social media is an excellent way to repeat your campaign message ad nauseam, but this is not going to do anything to increase turnout.

What does seem to work, and is rather cost effective at that, is extensive door-to-door canvassing. The authors calculate that door-to-door canvassing results in one vote per 14 contacts, which averages a voter contact cost of $29. Many campaigns use direct mail to bring the election bell, and this was certainly the case in 2010. For example, in the 2010 general election, State Senate candidate David Hildenbrand spent almost $23,000 on a mass mailing (which included paying for literature, mailing costs, and developing a voter list). If Hidlenbrand had spent this money on door-to-door canvassing, he would have likely would have gained about 650 more votes on Election Day. Given that Hildenbrand narrowly won on November 2, this decision did not adversely impact his efforts. However, for the five Democratic State House candidates who lost by less than 500 votes on the same day, the redirecting of $25,000 to a more effective ground game would have carried them over the top, resulting in a much smaller GOP edge in the State House of 58-52 (as opposed to the current 63 to 49 edge).

If there was any one candidate in particular who took the lessons outlined in the first edition of Get Out the Vote, it was Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry. This article in the Texas Observer is an excellent piece on his campaign’s efforts to develop an extremely effective turnout machine over the past four years, and I recommend that you read it in full. As much as one might disagree with Perry’s priorities and secessionist tendencies, his reelection after thumping his opponents in the Republican primary in June and besting Democrat Bill White in November 2010 is nothing short of amazing after being declared dead by most observers in late 2009. While Perry spent heavily on the airwaves and direct mail, his campaign also invested handsomely in developing a very strong door-to-door campaign game.

The lessons from Get Out the Vote are even more important for races with low turnout that require careful voter targeting. A school board election in Michigan, for example, will, at best, get 20% turnout, with turnout around 15% much more likely. When you run television ads and other paid media, only 20% of the voting population will really be interested. Likewise, direct mail has a horrible record of increasing voter turnout for small turnout campaigns. In the end, through careful use of voter files, a campaign should stick to door-to-door contacting, volunteer phone banking, and run a vigorous absentee voter contact operation. In the potential recall elections in Wisconsin, it is especially important to reach out to voters who typically do not show up at special elections. While I’m not certain that the Democrats will be able to get the needed number signatures to recall the eight Wisconsin State Senators, but if the recall elections do occur, I seriously hope that the state Democratic Party will read Get Out the Vote before wasting much needed funds on television advertising and direct mail and instead resort to old fashion door-to-door campaign. Also, you might want to call someone who does political number crunching and mapping. Just a thought.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The American Mind, 150 Years Later

With the 150th anniversary of the shelling of Fort Sumter is fast approaching, I’m reminded how the 150 years since the American Civil war is not really all that long ago. Only five generations stand between this current age and the fire-eaters, although some might say particular figures from 1861 have mistakenly been seen in 2011 (such as Texas Governor Rick Perry). There are a number of media sources, particularly the New York Times, that are doing an excellent job covering the Civil War and its impact on American life and memory, and we should be thankful for this.

For those of you who do not know, my childhood love was the American Civil War. My parents did not believe that the summer months of vacation were a respite from school; far from it. We had math problems to do, summer sports camps and tennis lessons to attend, and chores to perform at the collective farm at 2321 Everest SE. However, I was lucky that my Dad was (and still is) a college professor and he often brought back books from the school library for me to read and write essays to improve my writing. While I first enjoyed the pictures from the books most of all (especially those of Braxton Bragg, a real piece of work), the twisted trail of the conflict was fascinating. Who can forget reading for the first time some of the speeches from the 1850s such as Steward’s “Irrepressible Conflict” or slogging through Bruce Catton’s trilogy at the age of ten?

Perhaps one of my favorite books on the American Civil War is George Fredrickson’s The Inner Civil War: Northern Intellectuals and the Crisis of the Union. If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, I’d recommend taking a look. I came across this book in college after reading one of my all time favorite books The Education of Henry Adams, an autobiography that really provides an insightful look at the evolving intellectual ethos of the American ruling class between 1868 and 1914. Fredrickson work, published in 1965, looks at the intellectual struggles among the elites during the conflict. Fredrickson wrote his work in response to Stanley Elkins’ assertion in Slavery that intellectual life in the North centered on Concord, Massachusetts, meaning Emerson and others in his circle. Fredrickson uses an array of intellectual sources, including William James, George Templeton Strong, and Josephine Shaw Lovell, to convey the war’s impact on that was felt far beyond the battlefield. Indeed, The Inner Civil War persuasively argues that the war led many northern thinkers to turn away from questions on egalitarianism and individualism run amok towards a developing ideology promoting voluntary social organizations, the rise of the institutional state, and the role of citizens in a rapidly industrializing republic. While sometimes dry, The Inner Civil War is worth your time. In fact, I’d recommend that next time you take a vacation, take The Education of Henry Adams, The Inner Civil War, and Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club, and you will come back with a much better understanding of American intellectual thought from 1850 to 1914.

Perhaps one of the tragedies of modern American intellectual life is the lack of time for thought and introspection in our public discourse. While we have a feast of information, we have very little time to digest the bounty before us. Responses on detailed political questions are given the twitter treatment within a 24 hour news cycle, and I can’t help but think that our minds and our public institutions have not yet adapted to such a breathtaking speed. Can you imagine John Calhoun theorizing about states’ rights on twitter? I can hardly think that he’d be able to explain defense of slavery as a positive good in 144 characters or less, although he might be able to better defend his changing political views from 1809 to 1850. However, Calhoun’s evolution reflects the second great failing in modern American politics, which is vies any change in thinking or belief as hypocrisy. We have talented people in every generation of American political life, but we don’t have the time and working out the complexities of dealing with the American democracy that earlier generations did. The enormous change in American life between 1815 and 1860 was perhaps the undoing of the American political process that led to the Civil War finally coming 150 years ago; the technologies that gave folks like Alexander Stephens and Benjamin Wade the telegraph, the penny newspaper and instant public contact to the institutions of government led to the political process becoming rather inflexible during the 1850s (along with a host of other problems). While the issues of the mind that battered the Northern intellectuals 150 years ago might have been as demanding as those facing our thinkers today, hopefully we can learn to use the new social media to carefully think and process challenges to the same degree in this present age.