Whitmer wants $2.1B in federal money to go toward skills training, housing, small biz

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants to spend $2.1 billion in federal money to stimulate economic prospects for the state's small businesses, communities and middle-class residents. 

The Democratic governor laid out the proposal Monday that would allocate $651 million to support small businesses, $722 million "to grow the middle class" and $800 million to build community housing. 

The plan builds on a plan Whitmer announced in June, the Michigan Economic Jumpstart Plan, that sought to invest money in small businesses, childcare and payroll. 

The allocations would require the support of the GOP-led Michigan Legislature, which is tasked with allocating much of the federal COVID relief dollars the state has received. The state has billions in federal COVID relief dollars that it aims to allocate before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. 

“As we emerge from the once-in-a-century pandemic, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to use billions in federal resources to grow Michigan's middle class, support small businesses, and invest in our communities," Whitmer said in a statement. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks during the press conference at the Farwell Recreation Center in Detroit on Aug. 16, 2021. Whitmer wants to spend $2.1 billion to stimulate economic prospects for the state's small businesses, communities and middle-class residents, a proposal that requires the approval of the GOP-led Legislature.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the state has created 23 economic relief programs that allocated about $240 million to help small businesses confront "unique, unprecedented challenges," Whitmer said. The funding supported more than 25,000 companies and retained more than 200,000 jobs, the governor said.

Whitmer said the new spending proposals and priorities are "inherently non-partisan" and should help Michigan emerge from the pandemic to "usher in a truly new era of prosperity and opportunity here in Michigan."

"That prosperity is only possible if we meet the moment and address the big, pre-existing challenges exacerbated by COVID and if we do it together," Whitmer said.

The $722 million would break down to about $215 million to expand the college scholarship programs, Michigan Reconnect and Future for Frontliners, $100 million for the Going Pro skilled trades program, and $100 million for college-bound low-income new high school graduates. About $79 million would go to students who have nearly completed everything they need for a degree, $70 million to bring more talent into industry and other investments would go to increase work experience opportunities for those earning their GEDs or leaving incarceration. 

Whitmer's $651 million plan for small businesses would include $300 million in grants to restaurants and small businesses, $200 million for "high-tech, high-growth start-ups," $40 million for electric vehicle charging stations, $11 million for STEM internships and $100 million to prepare the workforce and companies for "opportunities of the future."

The $800 million in housing and community investment would include $100 million to build more units, $100 million to rehab vacant buildings, $200 million to redevelop brownfield sites, $100 million to build "development-ready sites," and $50 million for more energy-efficient homes. 

"The proposed investments in training and education will create opportunities for our citizens and growth in manufacturing," said John Walsh, president and CEO of the Michigan Manufacturing Association. "We look forward to working with the Whitmer Administration and the legislature as they finalize their recommendations.”

The plan was praised by several business groups, including the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council and Business Leaders for Michigan, which is led by Whitmer's former director of Labor and Economic Opportunity, Jeff Donofrio. 

"This is a monumental opportunity to accelerate talent development, job creation and strengthen communities so that Michigan can emerge from the pandemic as stronger and more competitive," Donofrio said in a statement. "With states across the country using onetime dollars to upskill and attract their workforce and create new jobs, we can’t afford to waste this chance to invest in our future.”

Jared Fleisher, vice president of government affairs for the Rock Family of Companies, noted the investments could help to address critical changes during the pandemic, such as the evolution of downtowns and the acceleration of automation. The governor's proposed investments, he said, are "foundational investments" to help people achieve skilled credentials to succeed in the changing environment.

"If we want to be prosperous in the future, we need to make the investments in our talent until they have these skills of the future," Fleisher said.