Whitmer announces new name, director for workforce development dept.

    Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks on establishing the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, June 6, 2019 | Derek Robertson

    Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order Thursday that renamed and reorganized Michigan’s department responsible for handling workforce and economic development, now known as the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO).

    New Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity Director Jeff Donofrio, June 6, 2019 | Derek Robertson

    “This new department will make Michigan a home for opportunity by improving how our state approaches workforce and economic development to ensure that everyone has a path to a high-paying job,” Whitmer said in a statement.

    She also announced that Jeff Donofrio, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s director of workforce development, would be the agency’s head.

    “Jeff has dedicated his life and his career to helping hardworking Michigan families,” Whitmer said at a press conference in Lansing. “[Detroit] added over 20,000 jobs during his tenure. … He’s built strong partnerships with our leaders and brothers and sisters in labor as well as leaders in business. And he’s exactly the kind of person that we need to lead this new, or this rebranded, department.”

    The former Department of Talent and Economic Development (TED) was created in 2014 by Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder to “make Michigan a national leader in talent development,” as he said at the time.

    Talent and Economic Development Department (TED) | Susan J. Demas

    Both Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist lamented Thursday that only around 45 percent of adult Michiganders have any post-high school credential, with Gilchrist saying LEO’s work would be instrumental in raising that number to the governor’s announced goal of 60 percent by 2030.

    In a statement, the governor’s office said the department plans to assist in that goal “by developing and implementing policies that enable greater opportunity for workforce and economic development, including a focus on closing the skills gap and boosting economic potential for businesses.”

    When asked about the motivation behind the agency’s rebranding and specifically the addition of “labor” to its name, Whitmer said, “This is about our workforce; this is about labor in Michigan; this is about economic opportunity. And I think it’s important to say what you do, so people know where to go.”

    Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber | Michigan AFL-CIO photo

    Numerous business and labor leaders lent their supportive remarks to the project, including Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber, who called it “thoughtful leadership” from the governor.

    DTE Energy CEO Gerry Anderson said Donofrio “did tremendously important work for our city and our region. I look forward to seeing him do the same for our state.”

    Jeff Mason, CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), said at the announcement Thursday, “By building bridges between businesses on the demand side, and educational institutions and local partners on the supply side, we can make significant progress in turning the challenges around talent shortage into opportunities. … Today’s announcement creates a path for us to do just that.”

    MEDC CEO Jeff Mason | Nick Manes

    The reorganization creates new commissions under LEO, as well, including two on appealing workers’ compensation decisions and one aimed at appealing unemployment fraud decisions.

    Asked by reporters about the reorganization’s effect on the state budget and negotiations, Whimer said the creation of LEO would have “a minimal impact on the state budget with a huge potential return,” and that the governor and Legislature are “in the fourth inning” with regard to next year’s budget, declining further comment.

    Derek Robertson
    Derek Robertson is a former associate editor of the Advance and is now a freelance writer in Chicago. Previously, he wrote for Politico Magazine in Washington. He is a Genesee County native and graduate of both Wayne State University, where he studied history, and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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