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Snyder: Nerds Wanted In Michigan

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When Gov.-elect Rick Snyder was done with college in 1982 at age 23 – with three degrees, no less – he had two job offers: one in down-in-the-dumps Detroit, the other a better-paying one in high-flying Houston.

For a bright guy from Battle Creek, his choice seemed, well, dim. But Snyder went on to become partner of the Detroit-area accounting firm, move on to help lead and grow computer maker Gateway Inc. and then become a successful venture capitalist – and use it all to successfully finance a longshot bid for Michigan governor. He said his motivation was about far more than money.

“It wasn’t about the work; it was about the people I was going to work with,” he said Thursday to an audience largely composed of Detroit college students. “The people … trying to hire me said they would be my mentors. They would help grow my career and develop my career and they kept their word.”

Now, he’s hoping to use his pulpit as the state’s chief executive to keep “tough nerds” like him in the state after they graduate.

Snyder, who comes into office with a state unemployment rate among the nation’s highest and a looming deficit of roughly $1.7 billion, is making it a priority to keep college graduates like those he spoke to on Wayne State University’s urban campus from bolting. He has proposed offering tax credits for young professionals who live and work in major cities and has stressed the need to revitalize places such as Detroit.

Even with his nerd appeal, it won’t be easy.

Michigan had the nation’s largest number of college graduates leaving in 2008, the last year for which statistics are available. The year before, an Internet-based survey performed by the state’s public universities found that one-third of those who left had a job offer in Michigan.

Lou Glazer, president of the nonprofit, nonpartisan research group Michigan Future Inc., analyzes such data as part of an annual progress report. He points out the departures aren’t based on job scarcity – at least for most college graduates looking for jobs in accounting, health care, law and other areas.

“It is not just the job – place matters, too,” he said.

Glazer said Snyder appears to understand the need to make the state more inviting for the young and the talented.

“He talks about kids looking for vibrant central cities. … He’s pretty good at this – he’s as good as anyone I can remember,” Glazer said.

The hang-up, Glazer said, comes if Snyder decides tax cuts trump public investment. Even in terrible economic times, Glazer said the spigot for central cities cannot run dry.

“You can’t do both,” Glazer said. “If he decides he’s going to be a public investment governor, he knows what to do.”

Snyder wants to lower business taxes by at least $1.5 billion, which could roughly double the size of the deficit. He has offered few specific ideas on how he’ll balance the budget but said solving those challenges requires rethinking how to run government and the way people interact with it.

For starters, he plans to create a two-year budget for the state early next year to “squeeze out inefficiencies” and reduce the risk of government shutdowns. But he’s also after something larger – ushering in an “era of innovation” that capitalizes on the cutting-edge research at Wayne State, Michigan State University and University of Michigan.

“We need to create an environment where our young people not only want to stay but can stay and have a family and career,” he said.

Wayne State senior Mike Mishreky, who graduates on Sunday with an accounting degree, said it was “inspirational” to hear Snyder and admires his long-term view.

“It gives me some confidence that we have somebody who has that background who is going to look out for guys like me,” said Mishreky, 23, of Troy. “It kind of makes you think twice about leaving Michigan.”

Getting the incoming nerd-in-chief to address the accounting students was important to show them their careers matter and can make a difference in the state if they stick around, said Randy Paschke, chair of Wayne State’s accounting department.

“The key is innovation – we’ve been so dependent on the auto industry. With that decline, people believed the excitement in Michigan is gone,” Paschke said. “Part of what I think he needs to really do is show that there are exciting things happening here. … Our students need to stay here to help make that happen.”

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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