The challenge of regionalism

05-14-2012

I wrote last in this space about this year’s celebration of the sesquicentennial of the Morrill Act and of Michigan State’s special legacy as a land-grant pioneer. An important aspect of that legacy is our highly engaged relationship with our stakeholders across Michigan, and we have a particularly good case in point.

Eric Scorsone, an MSU Extension specialist noted for his studies of local government finances, has just concluded an economic benchmarking study of metropolitan Lansing’s public services. This is something he’s done for several communities around Michigan, and last week he delivered his most recent findings to the Lansing Regional Chamber Economic Club.

The findings are mixed, but the bottom line is that there is very likely room for improvement in the cost structure of municipal services. Having such concrete information provides a foundation for positive problem-solving and real solutions. Many urban areas struggle with shrinking tax bases and associated problems, and what worked in the past won’t necessarily work now. It’s an appropriate time for MSU to deliver such pertinent information to leaders in our own community as they discuss opportunities for sharing services.

Great cities find ways to move forward on the basis of both information and vision, and I commend Mayor Virg Bernero and other leaders for being willing to start the discussion with an evidence-based approach.

Michigan State has a vested interest in community-wide cooperation. The long-term success of MSU depends first and foremost on our people–our students, our faculty, and our staff. To compete in our global league, we must be able to attract and retain the sort of talented people who enjoy a wide set of career location options. Be they students or employees, they’re looking beyond campus to make their decisions.

Quality of life is no small thing. Prospective students and employees want to live in a dynamic and growing community with good schools, safe and affordable housing, good public services, and recreation and lifestyle options. They want a livable community, and there are many other communities that want these people just as badly as we do.

To compete, we all need to cooperate. It’s as simple as that. With strained public budgets, essential services—perhaps entire municipalities--are at risk. The resulting problems cannot be constrained within local boundaries. Our fate truly is bound to that of our neighbors, so it is ultimately in all of our interest to develop common solutions to what are—or easily could become—common problems.

What the community chooses to do with the benchmarking study is of course up to its leaders and citizens, but I do hope all of our neighbors in greater Lansing give it due consideration. One of the great benefits of having a land-grant university such as Michigan State is being able to call on its talented people for specialized information such as Dr. Scorsone has delivered to our larger community. This is just one of the many ways in which we return value to Michigan citizens every day.

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