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The 'small impact' one MSU professor has on Michigan economics

September 12, 2023
Portrait taken of professor Ron Fisher in Kedzie Hall on Sept. 12, 2023.
Portrait taken of professor Ron Fisher in Kedzie Hall on Sept. 12, 2023.

MSU economics professor Ronald Fisher’s 47th year at MSU looks a little different than the previous 46. Lately, in addition to the three classes he is teaching this fall, he has also been attending meetings every week with a group of experts discussing strategies to grow Michigan’s population and workforce.

The group, called the Growing Michigan Together Council, was created by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer this past June. The bipartisan council is made up of expert workgroups on K-12 education, higher education, infrastructure and employment.

Eventually the workgroups will come back to the council with recommendations for the members to evaluate and decide upon. Fisher was appointed by the governor in July. 

“And wouldn’t you know it, one piece of the legislation requires that a member be an economist,” Fisher said. “I’d worked in this area and written about it, so I applied, they needed an economist, and they got me.”

Originally from New York, the professor with a 23-page curriculum vitae is an MSU graduate. After graduating MSU in 1972, Fisher went on to obtain his Ph.D. in economics from Brown University, eventually returning to MSU as an economics professor. Since then, he also worked as a consultant for the state of Michigan and the deputy treasurer in 1983.

“Because this is an area that I know about and have worked on in my career, it’s exciting to have an opportunity to have a small impact,” Fisher said. “My role as the economist is to provide context for the data that people are seeing, contacts for research and suggesting things that they might want to look at and consider.” 

One topic of interest to the council is increasing the retention rate of college graduates into the Michigan workforce. Fisher said recent data suggests that about 40 percent of Michigan college graduates are leaving the state.

“One of the interesting features about Michigan is that we’re a net importer of college students,” Fisher said. “That means that more students from outside of Michigan come here to go to college than Michigan students go outside."

However, Fisher said a lot of those students don't stay after graduation. Fisher is hopeful that the issue can be addressed through the policies that the council is set to discuss.

“It’s not really my goal to tell [the lawmakers] what to do,” Fisher said. “Until we have recommendations from the workgroups, it’s sort of hard to say exactly what the council is going to do, though the objective is clear,” Fisher said.

The objective? To expand Michigan’s population and make it more attractive for young people to want to work and live, Fisher said.

Fisher said it's not just about economics, with political impact in members of Congress and electoral votes to lose as the population declines. 

Fisher said with the youth population decreasing, Michigan is "becoming an old state." 

“We don’t have as many young people as we used to have, we have a lot of old people like me, but that isn’t good for the future," Fisher said. 

Fisher said that the workgroup studies will not be public until December, when the council will release an official report.

“In the end, we can hopefully come up with a small set of really transformative recommendations that might change people’s attitudes about wanting to live here in Michigan,” Fisher said. “At this point, I’m just trying to be helpful to lend what expertise I have to help the council members understand the issues and data.”

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