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A Q&A with Steve Bakkal, chief strategist for the MEDC

Where does the Michigan Economic Development Corp. start when building an economic development strategy for a state with almost 5 million workers and diverse industries?

Having a clear vision of what you aspire to become and a fact-based understanding of the issues that must be addressed to get there are critical first steps in any successful strategy. For MEDC, our vision is to have a more resilient and equitable economy that provides opportunities for upward mobility for all Michiganders. From that vision, we undertook a robust and thorough analysis of the problem and issues we needed to tackle to achieve that. That fact base gave us a deeper understanding of the economic realities facing businesses and families that top line indicators can sometimes miss.


What are the top challenges that Michigan businesses currently face and that the MEDC is working toward resolving in its five-year strategic plan?

There are several industry-specific challenges, such as supply-chain constraints in the manufacturing sector or increased pricing pressures due to inflation. However, finding and retaining talent continues to be the most significant issue facing businesses today. We are collaborating with the private sector and our statewide workforce and higher education partners to ensure we are meeting the talent needs companies need today, while also building a robust pipeline for the future needs of our evolving industries.


What are the top key performance indicators for Michigan?

Ultimately for the state and its residents, success will be felt with increased household income growth and labor force participation, resulting in overall economic growth statewide. The KPIs that support those outcomes are the number of jobs that pay good wages or provide pathway opportunities to good jobs through training and development, the amount of private sector investment leveraged from our support, and the percentage of our support that is targeted to disadvantaged areas in the state.


How do you build consensus around a strategic plan with as many partners as MEDC has?

Economic development requires a Team Michigan approach. With that shared vision and fact-base understanding of the issues as a foundation, it’s important that our strategy is relevant and able to address the unique assets and challenges all the regions and industries face across the state.  A broad range of stakeholders need to be brought into the development of a strategic plan as they are key in helping us execute.


How do you create a plan that can stay nimble enough to account for emerging technologies and positions Michigan for success?

We spend time listening and learning from state, national, and global industry leaders to better understand the impact and opportunities these technology shifts may bring to our businesses and talent. Ultimately, the state is best positioned to take advantage of these emerging technologies when our businesses are driving that innovation and our policies embrace it.


In one word, what is the key to a successful strategy?

Execution. According to a Harvard Business Review study in 2016, it was estimated that 67% of well-formulated strategies failed due to poor execution.