Blog: Keith W. Cooley

Keith W. Cooley is the director of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth. Before that Keith was the COO and then CEO of Focus: HOPE. He is a University of Michigan graduate with degrees in engineering physics and nuclear engineering and founded the school's Minority Engineering Programs Office. Keith will be writing about how Michigan can improve its workforce and business opportunities and environment.

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.