By Dave Alexander
MUSKEGON -- Economic and community development has much more to do with people and their skills than it does with tax policy, highways or the fresh water of Lake Michigan.
That was the message the head of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce gave a Muskegon business group Friday at the Holiday Inn Muskegon Harbor.
Milwaukee chamber President Tim Sheehy acknowledged that his community and Muskegon share a tremendous asset in Lake Michigan but he learned from an economic minister of Singapore on a trip a decade ago what was important to a region's economic future.
"Milwaukee, Muskegon and Singapore all have great deep-water ports," Sheehy told the Business for Breakfast gathering of the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce. But the minister said his country's future was tied to it being a "port of human knowledge."
The game changer in attracting companies to a community like Milwaukee or Muskegon is the population's education and the workers' skills, he said.
The Milwaukee economic development strategy is to focus on two key indicators: the percentage of work-age residents with at least a bachelor's degree and the percentage of work-age residents without a high school degree.
The most important economic development strategy should be to increase the former and decrease the latter, he said.
Sheehy's numbers show Muskegon has a lot of work to do in improving its "human capital."
Milwaukee has 27 percent of its 18-to-64-year-olds with at least a four-year college degree, compared to only 13 percent for Muskegon County. As for non high school graduates of the same age, Milwaukee has 11 percent, compared to Muskegon's 17 percent.