John C. Austin

John C. Austin

Nonresident Senior Fellow – Brookings Metro

John Austin is the former President of the Michigan State Board of Education. Austin directs the Michigan Economic Center www.MichiganEconomicCenter.org a center for ideas and network-building to advance Michigan’s economic transformation.  He also serves as a Non-Resident Senior Fellow with the Brookings Institution, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and the Upjohn Institute where he leads these organizations efforts to support economic transformation in the American Midwest.  Mr. Austin also Lectures on the Economy at the University of Michigan.

In recent years he has taken this work to an international arena. In 2020 he organized the Transforming Industrial Heartland Regions Initiative—pulling together Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Georgetown University’s BMW Center for German and European Studies, hisMichigan Economic Center, Policy@Manchester at the University of Manchester, the Ruhr-Konferenz, the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany in Chicago, and the European Commission’s Directorate of Regional and Urban Policy in a transatlantic alliance to advance policies, practices, and strategies that foster economic and community development in industrial regions.  As part of this initiative, Austin has been the lead author of the project reports,  as well as influential articles published by Foreign Policy, the Brookings Institution, the National Interest, among others, promoting the urgency of accelerating economic change in heartland regions, and sharing insights from the work of the initiative. Austin’s work has also been cited by the Economist, the BBC, Voice of America, Financial Times, Nikkei News, Politico, and the Hill–among dozens of  local, national, and international media.

In 2020 the Chicago Council on Global Affairs released Austin’s report A Global Midwest: The Path to New Prosperity, which provides an updated analysis of the Great Lakes/Midwest Economy from the seminal Brookings 2006 publication The Vital Center, also authored by Austin.  The report provides a refreshed blueprint for spreading economic growth and opportunity to more people and places in this important swing-state region

With the Michigan Economic Center Austin has spurred work to transform Michigan’s economy, and make Michigan a leader in the coming “Green and Blue” sustainable economy of the future. The Center’s 2017 report Jobs, Michigan and Leadership in the Economy of Tomorrow provides a roadmap for how Michigan can create new jobs and businesses in New Agriculture, Clean Energy, Smart Water, New Mobility, Health Care and IT solutions–all fast growing, globally pressing areas of work and market opportunity.  Also in 2017 the Michigan Economic Center’s report Michigan: We Are All Migrants Here detailed the outsize contributions of legal immigrants to Michigan’s economic and population growth, and the damage done to Michigan’s economy bythe current Administration’s anti-immigrant policies.

In 2015 working with the Michigan College Access Network (MCAN) Austin created the Michigan Higher Education Attainment Roundtable (MIHEART)  bringing together the state’s business, education, higher education State Administration in strategies to increase Michigan citizen’s attainment of postsecondary credentials, and reduce higher education cost. MiHEART’s2015 blueprint for action has been largely implemented, and an updated “Total Talent” agenda was released in September 2018.

Austin spearheaded the “Michigan Dream Restored” initiative to develop citizen-informed strategies for better supporting investment in Michigan’s foundational assets that drive Michigan’s economy: strong education and higher education institutions, improved transportation and communications infrastructure, vital and attractive cities and communities; protection of our lakes, waters and outdoor recreation assets.   He also coined the term “Blue Economy” to describe the way our waters, and water innovation contribute to economic growth, and created the “Growing Michigan’s Blue Economy” Initiative, to support stakeholders in leveraging Michigan’s natural water, and water research, education and innovation assets for economic development and new business and job growth.

In 2006 Austin created and directed the Great Lakes Economic Initiative for the Brookings Institution where he authored key Brookings reports that directly shaped the region’s economic development agenda:  The Vital Center: A Federal-State Compact to Renew the Great Lakes Region;” “The Vital Connection: Reclaiming Great Lakes Economic Leadership in the Bi-National Great Lakes Region;” and “Healthy Waters, Strong Economy” which led to federal support for Great Lakes clean-up and restoration, and regional understanding and actions to build on our Great Lakes and water resources as an economic asset. Austin’s Tales of Two Rust Beltsseries published for Brookings Institution’s The Avenue  updates the economic opportunities and challenges facing the politically important swing states of the Upper Midwest.

Mr. Austin also served in 2004 as Policy Director for Michigan’s Governor-appointed Commission on Higher Education and Economic Growth, and was principal author of the Commission’s influential report. He also was the chief architect of Governor Granholm’s urban strategy; and helped stand-up her  newly created Department of Labor, Energy and Economic Growth and a state workforce development  strategy

He was the founding Director of the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan—a $100 million effort by the region’s philanthropies to aid in the area’s economic transformation, andinitiated the Global Detroit program to welcome immigrants as a source of economic strength and renewal.

Austin received his Master’s in Public Administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and a Bachelors from Swarthmore College in Economics & Political Science, with High Honors and Phi Beta Kappa.

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