Whitmer said the business community has historically viewed Michigan as lacking in incentives, unwilling to compete with other states and politically dysfunctional. Too often, Michigan is not even up for consideration by large manufacturers, said DTE Energy Vice Chairman David Meador.
The bipartisan package funnels $1 billion of state funds into pots of money for attracting large business projects, including a possible General Motors plant for electric vehicle batteries. The House and Senate fast-tracked the legislation this month, wrapping up voting on the bills last week on the last day of scheduled session for the year.
“We have put that whole narrative behind us and are moving forward together,” Whitmer said.
Collaboration between Democrats and Republicans, labor leaders, economic development agencies and business groups should flip the script, according to the governor. Most important is showing developers that Michigan can offer sites that are immediately ready for use.
“This process started weeks ago, when one of our most iconic Michigan businesses made a big announcement of an investment not in Michigan,” Whitmer said. “It didn’t sit well with me, didn’t sit well with our legislative leaders, didn’t sit well with any of us because we want Michigan to be at the forefront of any opportunities to expand.”
The package of laws was a response to Michigan being snubbed by Ford Motor Co. earlier this summer. Michigan was passed over in favor of Kentucky and Tennessee for an $11.4 billion investment in electric vehicle and battery factories.
Legislature-approved funding for economic incentives would be transferred into one of two programs under the package: A fund to invest in businesses deemed critical industries, such as manufacturing, and another for developing possible sites for business investment.
“Together we welcome a new economic strategy of preparation, anticipation and comprehensive long-term incentives,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake. “Instead of reacting to unscheduled and unplanned opportunities, we are building a menu of options at the ready so investors can jump-start their plans for growth in Michigan.”
Another $75 million in state dollars included in the plan would offset costs of industrial and commercial personal property tax exemptions, and $409 million in federal COVID-19 aid would fund a grant program for businesses that took a financial hit during the pandemic. Whitmer, who addressed a crowd of lawmakers and business leaders from a podium reading “PUTTING MICHIGAN FIRST,” said the law is a testament to what can be accomplished when both parties focus on solving problems. House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, said the partnership is a building block for the future.
“This issue cannot go in the background; we have to keep this in the forefront as we continue the next term and the next year to make sure this progress continues,” Wentworth said. Whitmer said the COVID-19 pandemic also showed that relying on other countries to manufacture essential items can pose a national security risk.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan described competition over manufacturing jobs as “hand to hand combat” between states. Duggan said the country is on the cusp of a revival of industrial growth, and it would be the “ultimate cruelty” if those jobs didn’t come back to the state that put the world on wheels. Having shovel-ready sites is a deciding factor for companies deciding future investment and expansion, Duggan said. The Detroit mayor said it took seven years of negotiations with developers to repurpose an abandoned factory site that required demolition work. Lear Corp. announced this year that it’s opening a seat manufacturing facility, creating some 400 jobs.
Supporters of the legislation have stressed the urgency of taking action this month due to pending projects, although critics have argued the plan would divert taxpayer dollars towards corporations instead of helping citizens. Sen. Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth, said on the Senate floor last week the bills were a means to “secure Michigan’s future,” noting that in addition to keeping auto industry jobs in-state, the incentive program could appeal to other industries like aerospace, pharmaceuticals, defense and chemical.
Duggan said the bipartisan accomplishment is remarkable in an era where compromise seems out of reach in Washington, D.C. “It should not be a seven-year slog for every site,” Duggan said.