Blog: Jason Molesworth

Michigan may be a peninsula, but it's no island. Entrepreneur Jason Molesworth writes this week on closing Michigan's "capital gap" and embracing international trade and competition.

What Lets Us Buy Blueberries in February?

Let's face it, even though we often don't like some of the outcomes, international trade and competition is here to stay...  It's what allows us to buy blueberries in February, great coffee at your local coffee shop, and a range of products far cheaper than we would be able to produce them domestically.  What many people miss in the exchange, however, is that it's also what makes it possible for Microsoft and Intel to be driving computing on 90%+ of the desktops in the world and for GM, Ford, and Chrysler to be selling nearly as many vehicles overseas as they do in the U.S. (and in many cases, more...).  So, the question isn't so much one of getting rid of international trade, it's learning how to be successful in a context where competition is now regional and international in nature. Michigan's future economic prospects are going to largely be shaped by our ability to embrace competition, identify where we have structural talent, cost, and quality advantages, and continually evolve our capabilities. 

This reality is going to require something of a mindset shift for many of us in Michigan.  It's no longer going to be enough to ask ourselves if we're performing better than we did last year, but instead, we're going to have to understand how we're performing relative to our competitors.  To do so effectively, we're going to have to look externally and work to continually innovate.  When we talk about looking externally, it's not simply comparing ourselves to other midwestern markets.

Instead, we're going to need to understand what's going on in places like Brazil, Mexico, Korea, Japan, Germany, the Czech Republic, Russia, China, India, etc...  Many Michiganders know this to be true, but we all need to embrace this reality and understand that those are the rules of the game, and they're not likely to change in the future. While the need to compete in regional and international markets is clear, so are a couple of significant negative impacts.  The first is that the dynamic and volatile nature of international trade can result in some very real pain for people caught in a non-competitive industry.  As firms struggle to survive, jobs are lost and families and individuals suffer.  As a result, programs that offer transitional training and job placement assistance are critical in today's more turbulent employment markets.  We all also have to be pretty flexible in terms of learning new skills and even be willing to relocate if the local employment opportunities don't match our skills or career aspirations.  We also need to make sure to have some savings in the bank to help us make it through temporary, and sometimes extended, periods of displacement. 

Secondly, competition needs to be fair.  For countries that don't comply with international environmental, labor, monetary, and trade standards, Washington should use all the power at its disposal to attempt to level the playing field.  Where their efforts fall short, U.S.-based firms are going to have to become even more productive to overcome the structural disadvantages of an uneven competitive landscape. There's a lot going on here, but the bottom line is that our future depends on our ability to continually "improve our game" and evolve as our competitors develop new capabilities.  We've got the talent, the work ethic, and the resources to continue being successful and innovative.  We need to make sure, though, that we expand our sense of who we're competing against, why, and what we need to do to remain leaders for generations to come.