Proos: Economic Future is Optimistic

proos commercialHerald Palladium

State Sen. John Proos, seeking re-election in the 21st District, says Michigan’s economy is heading in the right direction, while acknowledging that it still has a long way to go.

“To say that the economy has rebounded for everybody, I think the evidence is clear that no, it has not,” said Proos, seeking a second four-year term in the Senate. “We have a long way to go to get back to where we once were.”

Before being elected to the Senate in 2010, Proos, 44, served as the state representative for the 79th district of northern Berrien County for three terms until he reached his term limit.

If re-elected, it would be his final term in the Senate due to term limits.

Proos is a 1988 graduate of Lake Michigan Catholic High School and has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Marquette University and a master’s degree in higher education administration from Michigan State University.

Before he was elected to the Michigan Legislature, Proos was deputy chief of staff and district director for U.S. Rep. Fred Upton.

Following this November’s election, the 21st District will encompass Berrien, Cass and St. Joseph counties and will no longer include Van Buren County.

Looking up

Proos said he has talked to hundreds of people on their doorsteps “who are clearly not out of the woods. Not every family feels like they are back to where they were. Not every family feels they are in the jobs they absolutely want. But as the economy improves, they will be seeing the benefits.”

Proos said the state’s unemployment rate, at 7.2 percent, is half of what it was four years ago (while still ranked 47th in the nation).

Michigan leads the nation in manufacturing job growth and in the growth of personal income, he said.

He credits these improvements to a change in the business environment, including eliminating many regulations and replacing the Michigan Business Tax with a 6 percent corporate tax.

The reform has created a tax that is “consistent, fair and flat, with no special place for someone to hide,” he said.

The auto industry, aided by a federal bailout, continues to be a “major driver” in Michigan, Proos said. Michigan has seen rapid growth “in part because we had hit the bottom and had been bouncing along the bottom for many years.”

Proos said that the recovery hasn’t taken full effect for some businesses that are “just starting to reap the benefits of the tax changes that were made.”

Closing the skills gap

A lot of businesses are hanging out the “help wanted” sign but are having trouble finding the skilled workers they need. Proos said there are some 75,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs in the state.

Proos supports more career and technical education at the high school and post-secondary level and letting students know “that there is a job available today, and it’s not your grandfather’s dirty shop floor,” but a vocation for the future.

Proos defended Gov. Rick Snyder’s record on funding for K-12 education.

“What is clear is that there has been over $1 billion in new funding for schools since Snyder came into office,” Proos said.

Articles have pointed out that much of that increase has gone toward shoring up the teachers’ retirement system.

Proos called that “living up to our obligations to those who have taught our children in the past.”

“As our economy improves, there isn’t a doubt that we should find a way to put more money into our classrooms,” Proos said.

Another area that needs a large infusion is the state’s roads, Proos said.

He has heard estimates that range from $800 million a year up to $2 billion a year are needed, and he isn’t sure which figures are accurate.

“What I do know is that additional funding for roads is necessary to manage the safety and security of the goods and services and the people being transported down our roadways.”

The first thing that needs to happen, Proos said, is to assure taxpayers that every dollar they pay at the pump in gas taxes, that is not constitutionally obligated for other areas, goes into roads. He noted that about two-thirds of the 6 percent sales tax on gas goes to schools and local governments.

Making sure that money comes off the top of a taxes for roads would guarantee the federal matching funds of between $400 million and $500 million a year, Proos said.

He does not support an increase in vehicle registration fees to fund road repairs because that would hit residents on fixed incomes, and small businesses and farms that would pay more for every vehicle they use.

Proos voted against an increase in the state’s minimum wage, believing that the cost to businesses would be passed along to consumers.

He did support right-to-work legislation that allows employees to choose whether to belong to a union and support it with their dues.

“Freedom to work is a step in the right direction to changing the image of Michigan nationally and internationally as a place welcoming to business,” Proos said.

Stopping meth

Legislative initiatives supported by Proos include the creation of the NPLEX system that allows pharmacies to keep track of the sale of ingredients used in methamphetamine, and to stop sales to people over the limit.

Law enforcement agencies have told Proos that this has stopped the sale of 3 million grams of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine and allowed them to investigate where these ingredients are being sought in large quantities.

Proos launched the “Swift and Sure” sanctions for people on probation, with immediate jail time for those who fail random drug tests.

Berrien County Judge Sterling Schrock, who oversees the “Swift and Sure” program here, told Proos that the rate of probationers failing drug tests has fallen from 71 to 4 percent.

“A decrease in crime in our communities means less victims and less costs in the community, while changing people’s lives,” Proos said.

Proos said meeting and listening to constituents is the most important part of his job, and his office has handled 12,000 cases for citizens in four years.

That has included explaining tax law changes to local school administrators, and helping businesses including the new Greenbush Brewery in Sawyer and the rebuilt Stray Dog in New Buffalo obtain liquor licenses.

“If folks know their voice has been heard and they know that I have listened to their thoughts and concerns and considerations, I think they have a better chance to feel as though their government has been responsive, even if it’s not in agreement with their position,” Proos said.

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Michigan’s Comeback Outpacing the Nation

proos commercialOur state economy grew by 2 percent last year, while the U.S. gross domestic product only expanded by 1.8 percent, according to a new federal report.

This is great news for everyone in our state and is another illustration of Michigan’s comeback.  Our pro-jobs reforms have made Michigan a place that businesses want to invest in and create jobs.

We crafted a positive business environment by cutting more than 1,500 needless government rules and adopting a better tax structure that encourages small businesses to grow.

The impact can be seen in the more than 275,000 new private sector jobs and 75,000 manufacturing jobs that Michigan has added in less than four years. Many of these new jobs are right here in Southwest Michigan.

As a result of our strong leadership, Michigan has been named the most improved state in the nation in the annual Top 10 Pro-Business Report from the American Economic Development Institute, is first in the nation for high-tech job growth from 2011-13 and has also been ranked in the top five for major new corporate facilities by Site Selection magazine – for two years in a row.

We achieved much to turn around Michigan’s economy and make our state more competitive for new jobs, yet there is still work to do.

The good news is that we are on the right track. We are growing our economy and creating well-paying jobs that will enable generations to come to choose to live, work and raise a family here in Michigan.

Business Roundtable Focuses on Job Creation, Meeting Workforce Needs

David gooch; pres gary wheeler, glen oaks ccWe have achieved much to turn around Michigan’s economy and make our state more competitive in the pursuit of jobs, including manufacturing jobs.

As a result, in less than four years, Michigan has added more than 275,000 new private sector jobs and 75,000 manufacturing jobs. Many of these new jobs are right here in Southwest Michigan.

We have created a more welcoming business environment by cutting red tape – including the elimination of more than 1,400 needless government rules – and by adopting a more favorable tax structure for small businesses to grow.

As we continue to help grow our economy and create jobs, we must also ensure our workforce is able to fill the needs for prospective employers. The access to highly skilled workers is critical to attracting new jobs and investment to our state.

I want to thank Lt. Gov. Brian Calley for his recent visit to Michigan’s Great Southwest for a roundtable discussion with area business leaders about strategies to continue job growth in the region and statewide.

Part of this open dialogue was a tour of Maximum Mold, Inc. in Benton Harbor. The small business is a leader in the designing and building of plastic molds and die-cast dies. Most importantly, it is a testament to Michigan success. It has grown from humble means in a cabin to a large facility employing two dozen workers.

Michigan is now encouraging entrepreneurship and creating jobs, but many businesses are having difficulty finding enough skilled workers to fill these new positions.

Currently, there are thousands of open high-paying jobs in Michigan – many still unfilled in Southwest Michigan.

These are not our grandfather’s manufacturing jobs. These positions are high-tech, clean and invaluable to Michigan’s economy. Filling the skills gap will play a critical role in meeting the workforce needs of a growing economy.

I will continue my efforts to encourage schools to offer applied learning programs that award credit toward a college degree or an industry-recognized certificate. These programs can help us prepare future generations for success while also giving them a leg up on getting into college or getting a well-paying job.

Lt. Gov. Makes BH Campaign Stop

Calley in BHHerald Palladium

By Louise Wrege

BENTON HARBOR – Lt. Gov. Brian Calley toured Maximum Mold in Benton Harbor.

And it sounded like a victory lap.

Calley told those gathered that Michigan looked very different just a few years ago.

“We were in perpetual fiscal crisis,” he said. “In fact, we were in crisis for so long no one was acting like we were in crisis.”

Calley and Gov. Rick Snyder are seeking re-election to second terms this year. They are claiming job growth, lower taxes and an improved business climate.

Polling suggests the Republican incumbents are in a close race with likely Democratic nominee Mark Schauer.

During the visit, Dave LaGrow, president of Maximum Mold, took the officials on a tour of his facility. LaGrow explained how his company grew from starting in 1996 with two workers in a pole barn in Coloma to its current 24 employees in a 13,000 square foot facility in Benton Harbor.

Calley said he and Steve Arwood, the director of the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, have been meeting with local officials all over the state to share the progress the state has made since Snyder became governor. Next week, he said they are meeting with officials in Monroe.

“When Steve and I started doing this … at first it was singularly focused on trying to get the word out about changes we have made within state government – the way that we’re operating, particularly the regulatory department,” Calley said. “It’s kind of evolved from there into more of a discussion generally about the policies of the state of Michigan and how they’ve changed, how they were working, and then helping us to set the agenda for the future.”

He said they needed to stabilize the state and create a more dependable and predictable environment for businesses.

He said the state’s credit rating is improving and the state government is functioning better.

“We can change all the policies we want but if the state government doesn’t operate well or implement well, there’s only so much improvement that can be made,” Calley said.

He said the state has gotten rid of thousands of forms that people used to have to deal with.

Calley said he was interested in meeting in Benton Harbor because it’s near other states.

“The discussions about competitiveness … are particularly important along the borders with other states,” he said. “We’re talking about a city like Chicago or a state like Indiana. This is an area where competition means something much different from the way people look at it if they’re in Saginaw or Traverse City or Detroit.”

Calley said it’s important to meet with smaller companies and help them connect with larger ones.

“We try to get out of the way … of our smaller companies in particular,” he said. “They don’t have compliance departments and teams of lawyers. The owner is the main sales person and the accountant and the compliance officer and the copy machine jam fixer. … We want people to spend more time on productive activities and do things with their community and their business.”

Officials said one of the main obstacles to Michigan’s growth is that students are not being trained for the jobs that are available today.

State Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, said there are 72,000 to 75,000 unfilled jobs in the state because companies can’t find skilled workers.

“We have students who are preparing themselves for four-year track, students who are preparing themselves for community college and so forth, but they’re not necessarily tracked towards today’s jobs,” Proos said.

He said the state legislature has passed bills to knock down barriers so high schools can be more flexible with career and technical education programs.

Proos: New Law Allows Residents to Taste, Buy Local Wines at Michigan Farmers Market

WineWNDU-TV

Sen. John Proos is reminding residents and wine connoisseurs that new laws now allow small winemakers to offer tastings and sell wine at Michigan farmers markets.

“Winemaking is a thriving industry in Southwest Michigan that employs thousands of residents, and this year our local communities can now support startup winemakers at the local farmers market,” said Proos, who co-sponsored the reform. “I have long been a strong supporter of Michigan’s farmers markets because they directly connect consumers with local growers and producers. Now, residents can have this same connection with our local startup winemakers.”

Senate Bill 79, now Public Act 100 of 2013, enables winemakers who produce up to 5,000 gallons of wine per year to purchase a new farmers market permit.

The new law also adds small winemakers who hold a farmers market permit and are selling their wine at a farmers market to the list of individuals who can sell wine at retail.

“Southwest Michigan’s position along Lake Michigan and our climate makes the region ideal for producing a wide variety of unique and flavorful wines,” said Proos, R-St. Joseph. “Allowing small-volume area winemakers to reach new customers is about promoting a growing industry and encouraging small business entrepreneurship in Michigan, which is vital to long-term economic growth.

“Michigan has more than 100 wineries offering a taste of Pure Michigan, and our wine and grape industries also contribute more than $800 million annually to the state’s economy.”

Proos has a list of local farmers markets on his Senate website at SenatorJohnProos.com and under “Find a Farmers Market Near You.”

Residents can also find a farmers market anywhere in Michigan by using an online tool on the Michigan Farmers Market Association page. Visit www.mifma.org and click on “Find a Farmers Market.”

Proos Tours Cassopolis’ Ag-Science Program

Cassopolis Ag ScienceWSJM – Radio

Jason Scott Reporting

After introducing Senate Bill 66, which would help more schools bring technology-based learning to classrooms and promote career-based learning, state Senator John Proos was in Cassopolis this week to tour an Ag-Science program. Cassopolis Public Schools this year opened an Ag-Science program at the redesigned Red Brick School. The program allows students to spend half of the school day earning English, math, computer and elective credits in an agriculture-based curriculum. Proos says programs like these “provide educational experiences that help schools to meet the needs of every student.” The Cassopolis FFA program continues to be a force as it will send two state championship teams to Louisville, Kentucky to compete on the national stage.

State Tax Dollars Should Stay in Michigan to Support Michigan Jobs

WorkersMichigan spends more than $30 billion annually on goods and services, and using state businesses to meet our needs can improve efficient use of taxpayer dollars, boost our economy and create jobs.

That is why I co-sponsored a bill to give Michigan businesses a priority for state contracts when possible.

It’s a way to thank those who stuck it out during tough times. Most importantly, it simply makes sense.

Senate Bill 517 mirrors the “Buy Indiana Initiative” that gave a preference of up to 5 percent to Indiana-based businesses.

As we work hard to continue Michigan’s turnaround, we must support our home team. Michigan-based businesses and the workers they employ pay taxes help that support vital services like education and public safety.

We owe it to all Michigan residents that we remain responsible and efficient with their tax dollars. That includes ensuring our Michigan tax dollars first go to support Michigan companies and Michigan jobs.

The 2013 Pure Michigan Travel Guide illustrates the need for a state preference. An Iowa firm won the contract to put together the guide’s three seasonal issues, even though a Michigan-based company’s bid was $300,000 less.

I strongly support Pure Michigan because it helps attract jobs and tourists to our state. That’s why I’m so disappointed that a Michigan company and its workers were not picked to design the state’s travel guide when their bid would have actually saved the state money.

Many businesses and organizations have pledged to Buy Michigan. The state should do the same.