Blog: Keith W. Cooley

Keith W. Cooley was appointed by Governor Jennifer M. Granholm as DLEG Director effective March 5, 2007. Known as an innovative problem solver, Keith Cooley was previously employed at Focus: HOPE since July 2002 where he melded his passion for community service with his corporate expertise. He was appointed Chief Executive Officer in 2006, after serving four years as Chief Operating Officer of Focus: HOPE.

Under his leadership, Focus: HOPE became ISO (International Organization for Standardization) certified under 9001:2000, 14001 and TS 16949 standards for quality, environment and manufacturing, respectively; received MIOSHA CET Awards for accident reduction in 2005 and again in 2007; and developed robust strategic business planning and implementation processes.

Cooley began his professional career in 1968 as an experimental physicist with General Electric. He joined General Motors in 1972 as a project engineer and became program manager and an engineering director in its Cadillac Motor Car Division in 1985. Cooley was appointed Director, Strategic Planning, for the GM Corporate Communications Staff in 1994.

In 1997, Cooley founded Principia, Inc., a consulting company dedicated to helping organizations manage crisis and critical change. He later joined Motorola as Director, Telematics International Sales, GM account, in 2001.

Cooley's professional recognitions include the Who's Who in the World, Tau Beta Pi Eminent Engineer, and the General Motors President's Council Honors. He is also a life member of the National Black MBA Association and the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honorary Society.

Cooley received a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering physics and a Master of Science degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Michigan (U-M) in 1967 and 1972, respectively.  As a U-M graduate student, he founded the Minority Engineering Programs Office, College of Engineering. In addition, he was a gymnast – the first African-American to compete in that sport at U-M – and was a member of a U-M Big Ten Championship team.

Keith W. Cooley - Most Recent Posts:

Post No. 5

It wasn’t my intention that these blogs become a "manifesto" for improving our workforce and business procedures, but as I look back on what I’ve already written, I could see how one could interpret them that way. Still, I feel so strongly about what must be done. Overcoming the occasional governmental quagmire, as well as public apathy and a sluggish industry, is and will be the most daunting task any of us have ever undertaken.

I began this all by peering through Alice’s wondrous eyes as I looked into the vastness of the governmental, societal and workplace issues I’d undertaken. What I’ve learned is that, while vast, it is conquerable. The trick is to address the economic problems in this state one step at a time; with patience and with a plan.

We mustn’t fear what is down the next hallway or behind the next door, but we must control, to the extent possible, our own environment and, thus, our own destiny. That means educating our workforce, it means developing a culture of learning and improving and it means making that which should be easy, easy.

We’ve started not by chasing the rabbit down the hole, but by prudently examining which direction we want to travel, and by examining every effort in our journey toward improvement. What looked to me before like Wonderland has come to appear to be an opportunity, more encompassing and potentially rewarding than I could have imagined.

Let me close by urging everyone reading this blog to get involved. Work with local organizations, associations, governmental task forces, civic groups and educational foundations to make your voice heard. Become a part of the solutions for tomorrow; provide the answers to questions we haven’t yet thought to ask. Move yourself, your business, your opportunities and your career forward.

It only works if we are all moving on the path together.

Post No. 4


Driving the economic engine in Michigan is, in some ways, just like driving any other engine. All of the parts must operate in harmony if it is to move forward. The unique opportunity afforded those of us in state government is that we are both a part of the machinery and an agent for removing barriers to forward progress.


It has long been our approach to partner with the business community to break down barriers and eliminate “red tape” in the business process. Some regulation is a good thing as it protects legitimate businesses from unscrupulous practices and protects the public from unskilled or unethical practitioners. Making certain that the regulation is applied evenly and efficiently is our job, but we can’t accomplish our tasks without the continual input of those being regulated, the business community. Input is needed from every regulated business to insure that our procedures closely mirror the processes which work for industry and which they are conversant in using.


Regulation should, for honest businesses, be a friend; easily accessed and implemented. It is a part of the machinery which should converge with the larger engine in adding value and moving forward.


Gaining speed is about innovation, education and determination. As we are able to more fully train and educate our workforce, innovation will increase, and companies will find new ways to utilize new and old skills of their employees. Growing business means accessing the right individuals at the right time to make the right things happen. Everyone in state government, and everyone in private industry, is in the people business. Breaking down the barrier of skills shortages and building the highway to innovation creates a foundation for companies into the future.


These are concepts and programs which must be advanced, which will help Michigan’s business community reconstruct the economic powerhouse for which this state was once known. I wouldn’t have accepted the Governor’s offer if I did not believe that it is necessary, possible and crucial to make this small renaissance happen.

Post No. 3

Business is the foundation of a successful economy. Facilitating the smooth functioning of industry and making sure business can progress unhindered are responsibilities state government employees take seriously. Often, however, the business community sees us as an obstacle, forcing them (as Alice was) through ever smaller doors using keys that don’t quite fit.

Unfortunately, in this case, perception is often truth. When one company has a difficult experience with state government, everyone knows about it.  Newspaper articles are written and consumer advocates descend. But the twenty, thirty or 100 thousand successful, efficient transactions are nullified by that one complaint. A problem at any level of government stains the efforts of all government in the minds of those not discerning of the distinctions. At a certain level, we become powerless to control our own destiny in the minds of our constituency.

At another level, however, we can and are moving forward to address a primary area of concern for businesses and individuals who must register or license with the state. A One Stop system, or as we call it the Michigan Business Services improvement initiative (MBSii) is an effort that crosses all areas of state government to provide business with one stop “shopping” for information on the “what’s required” and the “how to’s” of licensing and regulation.  Private sector efficiency in a public sector program, one governmental source for information for whatever your business needs are. 

State government has a myriad of functions and many departments to fulfill those functions. Unless you’re in the system, it’s difficult to know the next direction to turn to start or grow your business. Working with industry, our goal is to change the face of the beast, to provide one, easy entry point for business. Believe me, this is no small task, but it is absolutely crucial as we move into our new economy. Governments everywhere, like private industry, must become and remain competitive … on the cutting edge… or be replaced by that which is “better”.

I’m very excited with the opportunity to be part of this “quantum leap” in customer service. The implementation of these types of innovative private industry techniques represents a step in merging our efforts, and our goals, into one cohesive dynamic. I truly believe that this effort will have unforeseen benefits and strategic advantages for Michigan industry beyond my tenure.

Post No. 2

Educational attainment beyond high school is essential to the workforce of today and tomorrow. Simply put, a high school diploma is no longer good enough for entry into the Michigan labor market. Every person who has not had training beyond high school needs to define their own personal interests and needs, and get additional training and education.

In the future economy of Michigan, we will need every available person, we cannot have a workforce untrained for the increasingly sophisticated jobs they’ll need to fill.  

No Worker Left Behind
is not just the name of a program; it is a plea to every individual in this state to make sure that no one is without the education and the skills to compete in Michigan’s economy in the coming decades. No Worker Left Behind is a statement of determination by the people of Michigan that we will have, must have, a workforce capable of tackling and defeating the challenges we’ll face in an ever growing and competitive global marketplace.

No Worker Left Behind
is about educating those who have relied on an old economy which no longer seeks their current skills. Auto companies are seeking individuals with at least an Associate’s degrees to work in plants, skilled trades are seeing ever increasing challenges with technological improvements in the way they do business, and transportation experts are modernizing shipping and inventory methods almost daily.  

On the health care side, the Michigan Nursing Corps is about educating nursing faculty to address the estimated 18,000 person nursing shortage that’s expected by 2015. The Michigan challenge is to see that skills, and with them quality of life, are improved and sufficient to meet the needs of the individuals who will move this state forward. The undertaking is enormous, but it must succeed.

We are, and will be training the workforce of the future, but that workforce will consist of individuals who until now have been the drivers of the old economy.

Everyone must participate in changing the mindset and understanding from childhood that thoughtful application of continuous learning is the ultimate economic driver.

Business and government must have an educated, skilled workforce that sees lifelong learning is a requirement.  

The nature of the American dream has changed.

Post No. 1

When the governor asked me to leave my responsibilities at Focus: Hope to lead the efforts of the Michigan Department of Labor & Economic Growth, I was transported "through the looking glass" into a new, surreal world.

For anyone who hasn’t taken the reigns of a 4,000 person government agency, let me assure you there is a real "Alice in Wonderland" quality surrounding one’s integration into the system. 

And, like Alice chasing the clock-watching white rabbit, I fell into a place with many doors, few choices and directions that went nowhere. The breadth and scope of the functions in this one agency of our state government appeared daunting, and the staff looked to be marching in a hundred directions at once.

But, as in the famous fairy-tale, little of it turned out to be as it first appeared. There is logic, a direction, keys to all the doors and answers at one’s fingertips. Learning to ask the right questions of the right people was the key. Surprisingly talented and determined individuals led me through the maze of options, and helped me choose a path that made sense for this department and for the citizens of this state.

In our economy, we have identified two primary projects where state intervention and assistance can provide the necessary impetus for change and improvement. Assisting experienced workers in getting additional training, our No Worker Left Behind program, and the One-Stop program, to assist businesses in quickly and successfully navigating the state bureaucratic highway to licensing and permitting, have become our signature efforts. I’m convinced they both will improve our situation in Michigan, but not without the input, assistance, participation and vigilance of the citizens and businesses of the state.

And, as one who’s now spent time on both sides of the looking glass, I am convinced that the business/customer/government coalition can be the force for value-added change. 

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