Granholm: Embrace tech or be left behind

Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm speaks to an audience of 350 patrons on Thursday as part of the South Haven Speakers Series.  

SOUTH HAVEN — As a former two-term Michigan governor and now a CNN senior contributor, Jennifer Granholm keeps a close watch on state and national politics. But as the guest speaker at Thursday’s South Haven Speakers Series, Granholm discussed something she has become very passionate about – the future of America’s workforce and the nation’s economy.

“Seventy thousand factories closed in the United States in the first 17 years of this century,” she told an audience of 350 people at South Haven High School’s Listiak Auditorium. “Those factories sat on the main streets of America. You wonder how Donald Trump was elected. It was because of this.”

Granholm has been quite busy since she left office in 2011. She now lives in California and serves on the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley teaching courses in law and public policy, is a senior research fellow at the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society, and is chair of the America Jobs Project, a university initiative focused on policies to create jobs in clean energy. The initiative also researches artificial intelligence, employment and automation.

With the research she has taken part in, Granholm told the audience that Americans need to embrace technology or be left behind.

She pointed to the auto industry’s growing investment in autonomous vehicles and how workers paid to drive vehicles are at risk of losing their jobs. Those drivers, however, would more than likely be able to gain employment in the transportation industry, but in a different capacity, she said.

“Will autonomous vehicles take away our jobs? Since ATMs became popular, are there fewer bank tellers?” she asked the audience. “Since 2000, full-time tellers increased 2 percent per year. Tellers now do more complex computer work in more branches. ... Employment grows faster in jobs that use technology.”

But she acknowledged that training is necessary for workers, especially older ones, to acquire the increasing number of jobs that involve technology. She suggested that government policy makers become more creative in providing economic incentives for workers to embrace taking courses and gaining certifications to upgrade their skills.

“In this country, employees assume people will show up trained. Why not have a good subsidization program (to provide training)?” she said.

What about the roads?

Although she didn’t focus her speech on politics, Granholm took a few minutes prior to her speech to be interviewed about issues facing Michigan and the nation.

When asked what is stopping Michigan’s legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer from reaching an agreement to increase funding for roads, Granholm blamed it on gerrymandering.

“I do think gerrymandering was poison,” she said regarding the redistricting of legislative seats. “You would think infrastructure is apolitical as you can get. If it’s not gas taxes to fix roads, what will it be?”

Granholm remains optimistic that Whitmer will find common ground with Republicans on the road issue.

“She (Whitmer) campaigned on that issue and was sent by voters to Lansing on that issue.”

The former governor also touched on national politics and discussed the notion of impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. “If the House is going to do this, than do it. But don’t drag it out. They should send the message, ‘this is not acceptable.’”

Even if Trump doesn’t face impeachment, Granholm thinks he will face an uphill battle to get re-elected in 2020.

“He hasn’t kept his promises,” she said.