John Austin

Nonresident Senior Fellow, Global Midwest

Areas of expertise: Global Cities, North America


John Austin just completed 16 years elected service on the Michigan State Board of Education, serving the past six years as president. Austin directs the Michigan Economic Center a center for ideas and network-building to advance Michigan’s economic transformation. He serves as a nonresident senior fellow with the Brookings Institution and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs leading efforts to support economic transformation in the American Midwest. Austin also lectures on the economy at the University of Michigan.

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 blueprint for how Michigan can create new jobs and businesses in new agriculture, clean energy, smart water, new mobility, healthcare, and IT solutionsall 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 outsized contributions of legal immigrants to Michigan’s economic and population growth, and the damage done to Michigan’s economy by the current administration’s anti-immigrant policies.

In partnership with the Michigan College Access Network, Austin facilitates the Michigan Higher Education Attainment Roundtable (Mi-HEART) 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’s 2015 blueprint for action has been largely implemented, and an updated higher education attainment agenda for future years will be released in June 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 Belts series published for Brookings Institution’s The Avenue updates the economic opportunities and challenges facing the politically important swing states of the Upper Midwest.

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 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, and initiated 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 bachelor's from Swarthmore College in economics and political science, with high honors and Phi Beta Kappa. Austin has been married 30 years to his wife Terese. They have three children and reside in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


In the News

The Best Medicine for a COVID-19 Economy? More Education and Training

The Hill, October 2, 2020

'Ally-Shoring' Will Help US Rebuild Economy and Global Leadership

The Hill, September 10, 2020

With High-Tech Farming, We Can Usher in a Rural Renaissance

Chicago Tribune, August 27, 2020

"Ally On-Shoring" in the Age of China and Trump: Interview with John C. Austin

The New Diplomatist, July 27, 2020

Re-Forge Strategic Alliances and Check China Abroad, Rebuild Economy at Home

Newsweek, July 12, 2020

COVID-19 Silver Lining? New Opportunity for Midwest’s Smaller Communities

Global Insight, May 7, 2020

Fiscal Freefall for State and Local Governments: The Crisis We Are Not (Yet) Addressing

The Hill , April 6, 2020

Coronavirus Exposes Midwest's Economic Perch; Well-Paying Jobs are Cure

The Bridge , March 30, 2020

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