Attorney attends White House talks about Michigan economy


James L. Liggins of Miller Canfield’s Kalamazoo office

by Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

James L. Liggins Jr., a litigation and trial attorney with Miller Canfield in Kalmazoo, joined business and community leaders in the nation’s capital for a closed press conversation about jobs and the economy. The Feb. 10 meeting, held in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House, was hosted by the White House Business Council and Business Forward.

Liggins, who studied political science at the University of Michigan, enjoyed hearing the Administration’s plans for moving Michigan – and Detroit – into a promising future.

David Kappos, undersecretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, discussed the decision to build the first-ever USPTO satellite office in Detroit, at the Old Stroh’s Brewery site on the riverfront, with the anticipated hiring of 100 local patent examiners and 25 judges the first year. “But they believe that number is only the start,” Liggins says.

Locating the satellite USPTO office in Motor City is a strong statement by the Administration of Detroit’s vitality and the future of the city, Liggins says. The USPTO office should attract attorneys, drafters, carrier services, IT systems, paralegals, and the innovation community to the area.

Ann Arbor native Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council and Assistant to the President for Economic Policy, discussed the goal of jump-starting jobs, the push for the housing/foreclosure settlement and an increase in support for manufacturing in Detroit through budget initiatives.

“Many of the initiatives are designed to emphasize that the Administration will not wait for Congress to make progress on the economy. The hope is that the cumulative effect will equate to progress,” Liggins says. “Mr. Sperling had the most connection to Detroit, being from the area and his brother is Rick Sperling the founder of the Mosaic Youth Theater of Detroit.”

Peter Rogoff, administrator, FTA, DOT, reinforced the Administration’s commitment to making Detroit a desirable economic hub again, working with Mayor Dave Bing and Gov. Rick Snyder on Detroit’s bus rapid transit system.

“The FTA, DOT has also increased its efforts to enforce the Buy America Act, requiring that products have a certain percentage of domestically produced content,” Liggins says.

Dr. Rebecca Blank, acting deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, gave a basic overview of the national economy, discussed the Middle Class Tax Relief Act and reduction in payroll tax, and the hope that unemployment will be below 8 percent by the end of the year.

“The Administration’s focus is on how to best optimize consumer spending, business investment, government spending, and trade to continue the improvement of the economy,” Liggins says.

Blank put the housing market decline into perspective by pointing out that between 2002 through 2006 there was a 50 percent uptick in housing prices.

“When the housing market crashed, housing prices fell by 20 percent so looking at things from a historical perspective allows a less negative view of the market,” Liggins says. “There’s evidence the housing market is turning around, but it’s too early to tell.”

Blank outlined reasons for the slow recovery: the Euro-debt crisis; potential energy problems; ongoing housing market challenges; consumer de-leveraging (people are getting rid of debt and therefore not spending); worries about political gridlock; and slowing of government spending.

“Dr. Blank’s rationale is that it’s too soon to drastically slash government spending and that the initiatives to do so have negatively impacted the recovery,” Liggins says.

Short and long term goals include extending and increasing the payroll tax cut for a second year; creating jobs and improving American infra-structure; gradually reducing the federal deficit; promoting excellence in education; and supporting innovation and research.

Marie Johns, deputy administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, discussed providing small businesses access to capital, federal contracting and counseling and technical assistance, and how the Administration has worked to increase the guarantee on SBA loans, is working to waive or eliminate certain fees associated with SBA loans, and is working with smaller and community banks and non-traditional lenders to push access to capital for small businesses.

“The Administration has spearheaded an increase of $20 billion in additional small business support and CAP-Line now will consider accounts receivables and inventories as collateral as opposed to only utilizing hard assets as collateral,” Liggins says. “There’s also a focus on the federal agencies that drive federal spending to utilize small businesses for certain contracting work.”   

The Administration is also pushing to increase employment of veterans, with programs showing military skills can equate to civilian job skills.

“There’s no doubt this is an election year and that the Administration hopes to highlight its commitment to the success of Michigan and Detroit in a highly contested election.  However, it also seemed obvious to me that these programs and policies did not materialize overnight,” Liggins says.  “Much thought, planning, and energy have gone into determining how best to support the economy and jump start the recovery.”

He hopes the Michigan CEOs, executives, and leaders return to their communities and not only share insights provided by this meeting, but also take advantage of the programs to advance the economy in their own spheres of influence. 

“An overriding theme... was that the truly effective and productive ideas come not from the government but from those of us in the trenches dealing with the realities of our economy every day. My hope is that those of us in attendance are energized to collaborate, innovate and continue to make this country and Michigan the best it can be.”