Kansas Supreme Court Staffer, CSG Toll Fellow Jurgensen Named to CSG Chief, Director Roles

Shawn Jurgensen, a 2022 Toll Fellow and former CSG National Executive Committee member, officially joined CSG as its new chief public policy officer and director of the CSG Center of Innovation.

“I was pleased that the search for this position generated a pool of exceptional candidates,” said David Adkins, CSG executive director and CEO. “Shawn rose to the top of the list because of his demonstrated expertise in strategically crafting three branch solutions to public policy challenges, his considerable interpersonal skills, his passion for public service and a management style that will help advance the best qualities of our workplace culture.”

Since 2016, Jurgensen has served in the judicial branch. In 2017, he started his role as special counsel to Kansas Chief Justice Marla Luckert. His work allowed him to serve as a liaison for the chief justice, the Kansas Supreme Court and the judicial branch. Before serving as special counsel, Jurgensen served as a staff attorney in the Kansas Office of Judicial Administration and in the private sector as partner at a Kansas law firm.

“I’m thankful for the partnerships I helped build, but there are many others including Chief Justice Luckert and the Supreme Court, our Court of Appeals and district courts, legislative leadership, innumerable legislators and staff colleagues, and the governor’s office who helped with these historic achievements. Serving in this position has been the privilege of a lifetime. I hold our judges and employees in the highest regard for their commitment to delivering justice fairly and impartially.”
— Shawn Jurgensen,
CSG Chief Public Policy Officer/Center of Innovation Director

In a press release, Luckert said Jurgensen played a critical role in the work of the Kansas judicial branch during his tenure.

“Shawn has been a highly valued member of the judicial branch team, and he’s done exceptional work representing the interests of our judges and employees before the Legislature,” Luckert said. “Personally, I’m thankful for and proud of Shawn’s work to build stronger partnerships with our sister branches of government. He has played a critical role in positioning the judicial branch so it can better serve the people of Kansas.”

In his role as special counsel, Jurgensen diverted the state court system funding source to provide more stability as well as raising pay for judicial employees equivalent to market rates and increasing judicial staffing to meet department needs.

Jurgensen is a graduate of Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kansas, where he was the recipient of the John K. Kleinheksel Prize in Oral Advocacy. He was awarded the Pro Bono Legal Services Award in 2010 by the Topeka Bar Association.

Blueprints for reform: North Dakota, Indiana and Michigan are reimagining their juvenile justice systems

For many young people, the manner in which they interact with the juvenile justice system is not working.

Increased trauma. Lower levels of educational attainment. High recidivism rates. A rise in behavioral health issues.

“Justice system involvement has a host of negative outcomes for young people, particularly [those who] are low-risk and committing low-level offenses,” Nina Salomon said in July at a session led by the Midwestern Legislative Conference Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

With help from Salomon and her colleagues at the CSG Justice Center, states such as North Dakota, Indiana and Michigan are exploring promising new strategies to turn around their systems, as well as the lives of young people. During the July session, a panel of policy leaders from those three states shared some of the advances being made.

Lisa Bjergaard, director of the North Dakota Division of Juvenile Services, spoke about the impact of HB 1035, a landmark law from 2021 that rewrote the state’s juvenile justice code.

“One of the most significant changes … was to broaden counsel for all youths that are facing court [action],” said Bjergaard, referring to a provision that young people automatically be provided legal representation (rather than access to counsel being based on their parents’ or guardians’ ability to pay).

Also under the new law, more low-risk youths are getting connected to social services and diverted from formal involvement with the juvenile justice system. Additionally, risk and needs assessment tools must be used in making diversion and placement decisions.

With HB 1035 in place, Bjergaard said, various state agencies and groups are forming new partnerships to advance its goals, as well as to streamline or strengthen related services, funding and staffing. Last year, Indiana legislators passed HB 1359, a byproduct of work done by the state’s Commission on Improving the Status of Children.

“Data became the real elephant in the room that we needed to discuss … because we weren’t collecting it with integrity or fidelity,” said Rep. Wendy Rep. McNamara, author of HB 1359.

With new data-collection requirements in place, state leaders can better understand what happens to young people as they move through the system, as well as identify the services and resources that are improving outcomes. Indiana also is broadening behavioral health services, redesigning how it screens for risks and needs among young people in the system, expanding the use of diversion and transitional services, and developing standards for juvenile probation.

Some of those same structural changes may be coming to Michigan as well, under a bipartisan, 20-bill package now under consideration. It is the result of Michigan’s Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform — a group of legislators, judges, executive branch leaders and other stakeholders that produced a statewide blueprint for reform.

Michigan Rep. Sarah Lightner, who has been involved with reform groups for several years, said part of this new legislative package aims to improve young people’s representation in judicial proceedings, regardless of their financial standing — for example, better oversight of the county-based indigent defense system, as well as an expansion of appellate services for juveniles.

Michigan Sen. Sylvia Santana added that if the package becomes law, the placement of young people in residential placement centers will be reduced while community-based services will be expanded and better funded. Those and other goals would be met by:

  • expanding diversion opportunities for youths who are not a public safety risk,
  • creating a statewide juvenile public defense system and best-practices standards,
  • strengthening standards and quality assurance for local probation practices and statewide residential programs,
  • measuring system performance, outcomes and equity, and
  • establishing an advisory board for impacted youths and their families.

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Health leader shows how ‘place’ determines varying health outcomes — and why states should care

Why would a health insurer pay for new bedding and curtains, as well as the removal of carpets, for some select households in Michigan? Because “place matters” when it comes to health — both in terms of costs and outcomes.

People in those households had asthma, Shannon Wilson explained during a July presentation at the Midwestern Legislative Conference Annual Meeting, and they were part of a larger community that accounted for an outsized portion of Priority Health’s asthma-related costs. By removing and replacing those items, while also connecting individuals in those households to health professionals and an asthma management plan, the health insurer thought it could reduce costs while improving lives.

The investment paid off.

“We saw about a 40 percent reduction in inpatient admissions, a 60 percent reduction in the length of time that someone stayed in the hospital, and almost a 40 percent reduction in [emergency department] visits,” said Wilson, vice president of population health for Priority Health.

The root cause of asthma-related visits had been addressed not through a medical intervention, but by understanding and then addressing place-based determinants of health. “We were able to really change the trajectory of those families,” she said.

She believes that success story provides valuable lessons for state leaders on health policy. One is to look “beyond the 20 percent,” referring to how much clinical care contributes to variations in health outcomes among the U.S. population. The other 80 percent is driven by individual behavior, socioeconomic factors and the physical environment.

Mold and allergens in homes. Lead in the drinking water. Communities that aren’t walkable. A lack of affordable housing options. Those and other place-based factors contribute mightily to health outcomes and costs.

“Today’s fastest-growing populations are the least healthy,” Wilson noted.

That means the cost of health inequities will rise and rise if not addressed; one study, for instance, pegs the current total cost at $320 billion and has it increasing to $1 trillion by 2040. “We have to get this under control; it is not a sustainable system,” Wilson said.

She urged legislators to consider adopting more place-based health policy strategies, using a three-step approach: 1) “Understand the context” and root causes of the inequities, 2) try interventions based on what you’ve learned, and then 3) evaluate whether they worked.

“We have to get to a place where people have the opportunity to be as healthy as us,” Wilson said, regardless of where they live.

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Reid Wilson: Policy breakthroughs are continuing in states amid a deep national partisan divide

Between 2015 and 2021, the amount of spending by lobbyists in state capitals jumped from $1.75 billion to $2.21 billion. And it’s little wonder, Reid Wilson said during a keynote session in July that kicked off the Midwestern Legislative Conference Annual Meeting: A lot is getting done and tried in those capitals.

He pointed to several new policy innovations and trends, often being pursued with bipartisan support.

They range from new investments in mental health (988 lifelines and more counselors in schools) and infrastructure (rebates for electric vehicles, road and bridge repairs, and broadband grants), to the pursuit of new laws that shore up election systems and address concerns about the impacts of social media and artificial intelligence.

“What happens in Des Moines or Madison today will happen in 25 other states next year, and then become federal policy in a few years,” said Wilson, who is one of the nation’s most respected political journalists as well as the founder and editor of Pluribus News, which covers state-level policy across the country.

The job of elected officials is more complicated than ever before, Wilson said, because of the general mood of the country and a deep partisan divide. “The American malaise right now is very bad, and it’s been happening for a long time. Americans are not in the mind to give the president the benefit of the doubt, no matter which party he’s from,” he said. “This speaks to something really deep and fundamental right now.”

In 1999, he said, Democratic and Republican voters agreed on four of the five “top” issues facing the country. In 2023, they agree on none. “We’re just about two countries living side by side,” Wilson added. Despite these challenges, a Pluribus survey of state legislators conducted earlier this year showed most of them were satisfied with their jobs; many, too, felt the 2023 session in their states was more productive than the year prior. At the same time, many legislators report that partisan division is on the rise in their respective state capitals.

“I hope you fight against this in your states, but I have the increasing sense that which infects D.C. is creeping into the states,” Wilson said. Responding to audience questions, Wilson said some of the causes of this creep include the state of constant campaigning, as well as in both the rise of partisan “infotainment” news channels and in declining news coverage of state legislatures.

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With staff support from CSG Midwest, state and provincial legislators come together to advance Great Lakes policies

In early September, legislators from both sides of the border traveled to Québec City for a one-of-a-kind event that explores Great Lakes-related policies and the role of state and provincial legislators.

The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Legislative Caucus meets in person once a year. With staff support from CSG Midwest, the GLLC also holds policy-focused institutes for legislators, tracks state and federal bills, holds web-based meetings, and gives members the chance to serve as a voice for the region on federal Great Lakes policy.

At this year’s GLLC Annual Meeting, members passed five resolutions, including policy statements on the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, climate resiliency and the Brandon Road invasive species project. The caucus also updated its strategic plan and policy agenda. Click the links below to learn more about actions taken at the recent meeting, as well as information about GLLC membership, which is free and open to all legislators from the Great Lakes states and provinces.

New GLLC policy resolutions »
GLLC policy agenda »
GLLC strategic plan »
GLLC leadership team »
How to join the GLLC »

CSG Midwest and the GLLC thank the Joyce Foundation, Charles S. Mott Foundation, Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation, Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation and National Assembly of Québec for supporting this year’s meeting and the continuing work of the caucus.

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CSG South Announces 2023 CALS Class

CSG South has released its 2023 Center for the Advancement of Leadership Skills (CALS) Class.

CALS is for current elected or appointed members of state legislatures and judicial and executive branches. The five-day workshop takes selected CALS scholars through activities and instruction focusing on the program’s four central components—communication, conflict resolution, consensus building, and critical decision-making.

Say Hello to the 2023 CALS Class!

  • Representative Solomon Adesanya, Georgia
  • Representative Jennifer Balkcom, North Carolina
  • Representative Heather Bauer, South Carolina
  • Delegate Wayne Clark, West Virginia
  • Representative Elaine Davis, Tennessee
  • Senator Vince Deeds, West Virginia
  • Delegate Lori Dittman, West Virginia
  • Representative Jonathan Dixon, Kentucky
  • Senator Jeremy England, Mississippi
  • Representative Aimee Freeman, Louisiana
  • Representative Lydia Glaize, Georgia
  • Representative John Hodgson, Kentucky
  • Senator Keith Kelley, Alabama
  • Senator Michael Lazzara, North Carolina
  • Representative James Lomax, Alabama
  • Representative Rey Martinez, Georgia
  • Representative Kendra Moore, Arkansas
  • Representative Kimberly New, Georgia
  • General Counsel Taylor Nichols, Alabama
  • Representative Marvin Pendarvis, South Carolina
  • Representative Tim Reeder, North Carolina
  • Representative Suzanne Schreiber, Oklahoma
  • Senator Ally Seifried, Oklahoma
  • Representative Mark Tedford, Oklahoma
  • Senator Kristen Thompson, Oklahoma
  • Representative Matthew Willard, Louisiana
  • Representative Travis Wilson, Missouri
  • Senator Glen Womack, Louisiana

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‘Truly unifying issue’: A look at food insecurity and the role states play in addressing it

Out in the fields of western Michigan, before he became a state lawmaker, “Farmer Rog” was doing a job that ultimately would help shape his legislative agenda. Agricultural products — “off-grade,” but edible and healthy — were regularly being delivered every week to Roger Victory’s produce facility.

“What was our job? Was it to recondition [that product], to get it into the food system?” Victory said. “No, it was just to be disposed of — semi-loads of product with $10,000, $20,000 of potential market value. And it wasn’t just one semi. It was two semis, three semis a week.”

Across the Midwest, lots of food is being produced by farmers like Victory, yet there are households without enough to eat.

food security“Couldn’t there be a better way?” Victory thought as he composted that “excess product” in his fields. Finding answers has been a legislative priority of his ever since coming to Lansing.

Victory told that story in July to fellow legislators as part of his introduction of a featured session at the Midwestern Legislative Conference Annual Meeting on “Food Security: Feeding the Future” — the focus of his MLC Chair’s Initiative for 2023.

“This is a truly unifying issue,” Victory said. “We all have constituents who struggle every day to put food on their tables and to feed their families.”

Nationwide, more than 9 million U.S. children and more than 24 million adults living in a household with some degree of “food insecurity,” including some households reporting “low” or “very low” levels of food security.

Recent policy actions in Victory’s point to the possibility of some “win-wins” for legislators and their constituents. For instance, Michigan is providing more dollars to a grant program for food banks to purchase excess food from agriculture producers in order to better meet the emergency food needs of households. New investments are being made to build stronger local food systems and supply chains. And state funding is going to a Double Up Food Bucks program that opens new markets for farmers’ locally grown foods while boosting support for individuals who receive food-assistance benefits. (See bottom of this page for details on these and other recent state actions in the Midwest.)

“There’s enough of us now who believe that we can solve this problem; I don’t think we want to just manage it anymore,” Phil Knight, executive director of the Food Bank Council of Michigan, said about food insecurity, singling out some of the advances in that state during a panel discussion at the MLC Annual Meeting.

Formula for success: Strong economy plus expanding reach of SNAP

Rates of food insecurity are regularly measured by the federal government, and are based on responses from U.S. households to a series of survey questions.

“It’s become the leading indicator of well-being for vulnerable households in America; I really think it has surpassed the poverty rate,” said Professor Craig Gundersen, a leading researcher on food insecurity and the Snee Family Endowed Chair at the Baylor University Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty. Those surveys show that progress has been made in recent years: Rates of food insecurity among U.S. households fell 40 percent between 2014 and 2021, Gundersen told legislators.

The most recently available federal data puts the U.S. rate of food-insecure households at 10.4 percent (when averaging the years 2019, 2020 and 2021). Four Midwestern states — Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota — have a “statistically significant” lower rate than the national average. Every other state in the region is close to the national average, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Household Food Security in the United States in 2021.”

Authors of that USDA report cite several contributors to the state-by-state variations. On the policy side, state laws and programs affect access to unemployment insurance, nutrition assistance and the earned income tax credit. In turn, access to these as well as other safety-net and/or anti-poverty programs influences rates of food insecurity.

Differences in state-level economic characteristics play a role as well. For example, lower average wages lead to higher rates of food insecurity, as do higher costs (for housing and food, in particular) and unemployment rates. At the household level, families with children have higher-than-average rates of food insecurity (12.5 percent in 2021). This is especially true of households with children headed by a female with no spouse: Nearly 1 in 4 of these households report being food insecure, compared to 7.4 percent of married-couple households.

What has led to the recent decline in overall U.S. rates of food insecurity? Gundersen pointed to two factors during his July presentation to the MLC: Strong economic growth “raised up” more households, while enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — which provides food assistance to low-income people — also rose.

Not only did SNAP reach more households in need, he added, policy changes increased the level of benefits.

Though recognizing that SNAP has its critics, Gundersen praised the federal-state program and its structure. According to Gundersen, it reaches those most in need, gives them dignity and autonomy when making food purchases, can be used at virtually all food retail outfits, and does not discourage work among recipients.

“Every discussion about food insecurity … has to involve SNAP,” Gundersen said about the nation’s largest hunger-fighting program.

Each month, around 40 million Americans receive help from the program, with benefits provided via an electronic benefits transfer card that is only redeemable for food purchases. In fiscal year 2022, the average monthly benefit, per household, was $438.99.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the percentage of state residents in the Midwest participating in SNAP in FY 2022 ranged from a high of 16 percent in Illinois to a low of 6 percent in North Dakota. Nationwide, the center says, more than 65 percent of SNAP participants are in families with children; 36 percent are in families with members who are older adults or disabled; and 41 percent are in working families.

Among Gundersen’s policy ideas for state legislators: Find ways of streamlining the SNAP recertification process so that households in need of assistance don’t lose benefits. “There is [too much] churn where people are off the program and back on the next month because they missed a notification or there’s some sort of glitch,” he said. “Let’s make recertification a lot more streamlined.”

One recent example from the Midwest: This year’s passage in Indiana of SB 334, which directs state administrators of SNAP to simplify the certification process and lengthen renewal periods for the state’s disabled and older residents.

A ‘meal gap’ among certain groups, and in many rural areas

Gundersen also pointed out some not-so-good news to the region’s legislators about trends in food insecurity. He said rates remain high among certain groups, particularly African Americans, Native Americans and people with disabilities. Those disparities remain even when controlling for income.

“The gap between Whites and Blacks in the Midwest is astounding compared to other parts of the country,” Gundersen said. (It’s nearly 15 percentage points.)

Nationwide, too, the most recent USDA study showed much higher rates of food insecurity among Black and Hispanic households: 19.8 percent and 16.2 percent, respectively, compared to 7.0 percent of White households.

There are other notable disparities as well, across the region and entire United States; for example, food insecurity tends to be higher in rural areas. According to the hunger-relief organization Feeding America, which tracks county-level data for its “Map the Meal Gap” study, 89 percent of the U.S. counties with the highest rates of food insecurity are rural.

In the Midwest, Michigan has 42 counties with elevated rates of food insecurity (11.9 percent or more of the population), and nearly all of them are concentrated in the state’s northern region and Upper Peninsula. Many of Ohio’s 46 counties with higher-than-average food-insecurity rates are in the rural, southeast part of the state. In South Dakota’s Oglala Lakota County, 26.3 percent of the residents report being “food insecure,” one of the nation’s highest rates. This county has a mostly Native American population. In four other Midwestern states — Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wisconsin — the counties with the highest rates of food insecurity also have high numbers of Native Americans.

According to Feeding America, of the 34 million people in the United States experiencing food insecurity, 8.2 percent are Native American, a group that makes up less than 3 percent of the U.S. population.

Disability: ‘The leading predictor of food insecurity’

Here is another striking disparity: Nationwide, 93 percent of households with non-disabled adults are “food secure,” but the rate falls to 76 percent for households with disabled adults between the ages of 18 and 64.

“The leading predictor of food insecurity in the United States today is disability status, especially mental health,” Gundersen said. “So if we want to talk about food insecurity in the United States today, it’s really a story about disability. … Figuring out how we can improve the wellbeing, how we can make things easier for those facing disabilities, has to be part of [the] discussion.”

Addressing food security goes hand in hand with addressing the nation’s mental health crisis, he said. And for individuals who have difficulty traveling due to a disability, states can help by making SNAP certification simpler and by investing in programs that enable the home delivery of meals. Knight said some Michigan food banks are partnering with private businesses such as DoorDash, and through another pilot initiative, “fresh food pharmacies” are opening inside of health clinics.

“How do we get food to people who can’t get to the food? We’re trying to be creative and innovative in that,” Knight said, adding that states can help by partnering with local food banks on these programs.

The causes and effects of being food-insecure

Panelists for the MLC meeting session also pointed to various studies showing how health outcomes and costs, as well as the academic success of young people, are tied to food security. “One of the great predictors of graduation rates is third-grade reading levels, right?” Knight said. “But if they’re not well fed, they will never be well read.”

University of Toronto Professor Emerita Valerie Tarasuk, a pioneer of research on food insecurity in Canada, said the correlation with health also is clear.

“[It] takes a huge toll on health and on health care budgets,” she said. “An adult in Canada who is in a severely food-insecure household, in the course of a 12-month period, burns up more than double the health care dollars of somebody else who’s food-secure.”

Canada does not have a food-based assistance program such as SNAP. It instead relies on cash transfers to provide low-income households with the financial resources they need. According to Tarasuk, those transfers have not kept pace with recent spikes in the price of food, housing and other necessities. As a result, food-insecurity rates in that country have been on the rise.

It’s a reminder, too, that income levels and a social safety net are not the only determinants of food insecurity; prices of goods, especially food, play a role as well. According to Gundersen, giving farmers “the freedom to operate” helps keep food prices low and contributes to food security. Tarasuk, meanwhile, urged legislators to look at broader economic metrics — for example, the wages being paid to workers.

“We can see very clearly from Canadian data that even a small increase in the minimum wage reduces the rate of food insecurity,” she said.

Another session panelist, Michigan State University Professor M. Jahi Johnson-Chappell, wrote a book detailing how a community in Brazil dramatically reduced hunger. He shared his global insights during the discussion. The first step, Johnson-Chappell said, was having political leaders recognize food as a “right of citizenship.”

That didn’t mean directly providing every person with a meal, he said, but instead creating conditions to ensure access to it (just as a right such as free speech doesn’t guarantee access to a newspaper, but creates an environment where it is available to citizens).

Once the “right to food with dignity” was recognized and taken seriously, Johnson-Chappell said, a series of interventions followed. Central to the effort were new partnerships with local farmers.

“We saw decreases in infant mortality and infant malnutrition of 50 to 70 percent, a decrease in diabetes of about 30 percent, and it was one of the few Brazilian cities that saw increases in fruit and vegetable consumption,” said Johnson-Chappell, director of Michigan State’s Center for Regional Food System.

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DOL Continues Funding of CSG-led CAPE-Youth to Support Disabled Youth Employment Initiatives

CSG joins ODEP, Cornell University, San Diego State University and the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals for additional work on the Center for Advancing Policy on Employment for Youth to promote inclusion.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Labor announced the award of a $7.5 million, five-year cooperative agreement to continue support for a policy center aimed at boosting disabled youth employment.

Administered by the department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, the agreement will provide $1.5 million annually for the agency’s Center for Advancing Policy on Employment for Youth (CAPE-Youth). ODEP created the center in 2019 to enhance national, state and local workforce systems, focusing on improved outcomes for youth with disabilities, especially those from underserved communities. The Council of State Governments oversees the development and management of CAPE-Youth.

“We are extremely excited that we have been given the opportunity to continue working on this amazing project,” said Lindsay Lucas, CAPE-Youth project manager at The Council of State Governments. “With the workforce rapidly changing due to technological advances, it is critical that we make sure youth and young adults with disabilities and the systems that support them can adapt to the changing landscape.”

As states strive to promote workforce inclusion, youth with disabilities are a key part of the solution. Over 1.3 million young people between the ages of 16 and 24 have a disability. Through research, partnerships and shared best practices, CAPE-Youth works to improve employment outcomes for youth and young adults with disabilities by helping states build capacity in their youth service delivery and workforce systems.

CAPE-Youth is a collaboration between ODEP, CSG, the K. Lisa Yang and Hock E. Tan Institute on Employment and Disability at Cornell University, San Diego State University Interwork Institute and the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals.

“Our partners have a wealth of experience and knowledge in this arena, and we are looking forward to continued collaboration and new work from the center,” Lucas said.

About The Council of State Governments
The Council of State Governments is America’s largest organization of state officials and the nation’s only nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization serving all three branches of state government. Founded in 1933, CSG is a region-based forum that fosters the exchange of insights and ideas to help state officials shape public policy to help communities across the nation and advance the common good.

A relationship worth working on: Region’s legislators can deepen cross-border economic, personal ties

What do a former Midwestern governor, a former chair of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, a farmer-turned-member of the Canadian Parliament (MP), and a social worker-turned MP have in common?

They all believe deeply in the importance of the U.S.-Canada relationship.

During a July session at the Midwestern Legislative Conference Annual Meeting, all four shared stories and insights on the role of state and provincial legislators in strengthening cross-border ties. Canadian MPs Randy Hoback (Saskatchewan) and Brian masse (Ontario) were joined on the panel by former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and former U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson (Minnesota).

The session took place in downtown Detroit, just a few miles from the busiest crossing along the U.S.-Canada border.

On a single day, $2.6 billion in trade occurs between the two countries, Hoback noted, a system of open commerce that allows U.S. and Canadian businesses to make products together and opens markets for the Midwest’s agriculture producers, manufacturers and others.

During his time as governor, Snyder said, one of the most striking aspects of the relationship was how it defied party lines on issues such as trade and the Great Lakes. He worked equally well with Canada’s Liberal and Conservative leaders during an important juncture: negotiations over a new international crossing in the Detroit-Windsor area.

Masse thanked Snyder for his support of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, which is expected to open for traffic by 2025 and is the result of a deal reached in 2012 by Snyder and then-Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper.

Canada is paying for the design, construction and operation of the six-lane, 1.6-mile bridge. In return, Canada will have sole authority to charge tolls. The bridge is expected to make crossing times shorter and more reliable, an important development in helping maintain and expand this region’s cross-border supply chains.

But there are potential challenges ahead for the relationship as well.

Hoback, for instance, highlighted the upcoming six-year mandated review of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement in 2026; it’s a review that could pose risks (and rewards) to the two countries’ economic relationship, he said.

Masse noted, too, that there is ongoing pressure for governments on both sides of the border to compete against each other for jobs and businesses. One recent example: competition for a new battery plant that ultimately landed in Windsor.

“The auto industry pressured local, state and federal governments for incentives,” he said. “I don’t want to compete for auto jobs versus Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and other states. I want to compete for auto jobs [with] Europe and Asia and have us work harder together with regional policies in North America.”

Despite the strength and longevity of the U.S.-Canada relationship, the panel and audience lamented the lack of knowledge that citizens of both countries, especially young people, have about the other country.

People living along the border, particularly political leaders, have the chance to change that, the panel said. Participate in binational events such as the MLC Annual Meeting, talk to someone you don’t know from the other country, and share best practices, Hoback said.

Or even steal an idea or two.

Early in the discussion, Snyder talked about organizing youth trips to the new Detroit-Windsor bridge to get students thinking about the two countries, bridge engineering and cross-border trade. Masse plans to take that idea and use it in Canada.

Likewise, Snyder challenged state and provincial lawmakers to find one action item on U.S.-Canada relations and apply it to their legislative work. There are plenty of items to choose from, as Snyder learned from plans for the new bridge as well as his six-year tenure leading the Conference of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers.

For those living near the border, MP Masse suggested hiring employees from both countries. (Some of his parliamentary interns are from Michigan.) Hoback encouraged families to explore study-abroad opportunities in Canada or the United States.

All of the panelists, too, recalled the days of easier border crossings and argued that an enhanced identification or driver’s license should be enough to cross the border — no passport required.

Finally, to build better cross-border relations, Peterson urged legislators to listen. He explained that the most successful people he knows are those who actively listen to and understand others.

Organized by the MLC Midwest-Canada Relations Committee, the panel discussion was moderated by Christopher Sands, director of the Canada Institute at the Wilson Center.

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In Michigan, a public-private partnership takes a sector-specific approach to building a skilled workforce

In many economic sectors and parts of the country, the United States does not have enough workers to fill open positions (see map for Midwest).

One strategy being pursued in Michigan to build talent pipelines in high-demand areas: a unique public-private partnership known as Sector Strategies Employer-Led Collaboratives, a brainchild of the state’s Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO).

“[We] leverage the power of multiple employers within an industry coming together to say, ‘This is what I need in a person. These are the skills. These are the competencies. This is the education, the credentials that I need them to have,’ ” Deb Lyzenga, an LEO division administrator, said during a July session of the Midwestern Legislative Conference Annual Meeting.

“Then we start bringing in our educators, our workforce system, our labor partners.”

Michigan now has more than 60 formally identified employer-led collaboratives, in sectors such as energy, health care, mobility, infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing, information technology and hospitality. The state provides grants and technical assistance.

Working together, business leaders from the same economic sector identify common in-demand, unfilled positions; pinpoint barriers to hiring; evaluate recruitment strategies; and establish agreed-upon outcome metrics to track the collaborative’s progress. They also develop employee training plans that can be implemented throughout the sector and in educational institutions.

Once a collaborative has met, articulated its goals and executed a plan, the department helps evaluate progress.

“We go back to the employers and we say, ‘How did that work? Did you hire the people that you wanted to? Are they up to speed in their job as fast as you expected them to be? Tell us what the gaps are,’ ” Lyzenga said.

“As a workforce system, it’s systemic change. We’re starting to talk the same language.”

Earlier this year, the state awarded $4.6 million in grants to develop new collaboratives and maintain existing ones.

During the session, organized by the MLC Education and Workforce Development Committee, lawmakers heard from individuals directly involved with the employer-led collaboratives.

Deborah Majeski, manager of DTE Energy’s Center of Excellence Workforce Development, has been part of an energy-focused collaborative since 2016.

“We have well over 5,000 different job roles that we offer,” Majeski explained. “Michigan’s energy [sector] accounts for more than 116,000 energy-related careers, with the demand [projected to grow by] 7.5 percent between 2020 and 2030.”

From this collaborative, myriad training programs have been integrated into secondary and postsecondary schools; for example, a college-credit-awarding program known as the Energy Industry Fundamentals Course will be offered this fall at six Michigan high schools and seven community colleges. It prepares students to enter 15 job roles in the energy sector — roles that are available to individuals of varying educational attainment levels.

At Henry Ford College, 40-foot telephone poles have been built on campus for prospective electrical line workers as part of the Power and Trade Pathways Program, through which students can pursue an associate degree or certificates in various energy-related skilled trades.

The collaborative also helps expose middle and high school students to possible careers in renewable energy, via virtual field trips and accompanying workbooks.

A newer collaborative is focused on electrical vehicle manufacturing. The initial focus of this “EV Jobs Academy” has been to collect workforce data and share results with industry leaders.

“Our labor-market intelligence really informs our regional training strategies, [our] curriculum development,” Michele Economou Ureste, executive director of the Workforce Intelligence Network for Southeast Michigan, said.

Once top occupation sectors and related skills are identified, she added, the EV Jobs Academy will work with Michigan colleges and universities to develop new learning and training opportunities on a shared online platform.

At the same time, it is collaborating with other industry groups to secure grants from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and to develop new apprenticeship opportunities for prospective workers in the EV manufacturing field.




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