Whitmer wants 'more resources' for Michigan's economic development arm after Ford snub

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer encouraged the Michigan Legislature on Tuesday to work with her to increase the Michigan Economic Development Corporation's "resources" and "procedural and legal tools" in a bid to attract more businesses. 

The Democratic governor in her letter cited Ford Motor Co.'s decision last week to locate an $11.4 billion electric vehicle and battery investment in Tennessee and Kentucky instead of the company's home state. 

Whitmer said last week she was eager to put solutions on the table to convince Ford to locate in Michigan, but the state was never given a "real opportunity."

In her Tuesday letter outlining priorities for collaboration with the Legislature, Whitmer said there are still projects "in our pipeline," including medical device development, the future of mobility electrification and biotech. 

"That means we need sites that are ready for factories to be built, thousands of highly skilled workers with in-demand skills and training, and a high quality of life for families," Whitmer wrote.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at the Detroit Regional Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference in September 2021.

In total, Whitmer said, there are 22,500 jobs and $67 billion in investments that could come to Michigan through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. 

"Together, we can equip MEDC with more resources and more advanced procedural and legal tools that will enable them to be even more aggressive in pursuing projects and competing to win," Whitmer wrote. 

The letter appeared to be dead on arrival with Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, who questioned Whitmer's plan to close Enbridge's Line 5 through the Straits of Mackinac.

“I have had this conversation with the governor before," the Clarklake Republican said. "All economic development and infrastructure conversations ring noticeably hollow as long as it is the governor’s intention to shut down Line 5.”

House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, had not yet had time to review the letter, his spokesman Gideon D'Assandro said.

The letter comes shortly after the Democratic governor signed a budget that will bring state spending in the new fiscal year to about $70 billion, a relatively high spending plan aided by federal COVID-19 relief dollars and higher than expected state tax revenue. 

Whitmer and the Republican-led Legislature agreed on most aspects of the budget, but Whitmer drew criticism from GOP lawmakers when she deemed several budget items limiting COVID-19 response unenforceable. 

Some of the MEDC's programs, including a recession-era business tax credit, have attracted  criticism in recent years because of the liability they created for the corporation and because some of the companies lured in through tax incentives failed to deliver on jobs.

Whitmer also emphasized in her letter the need to invest leftover federal COVID-19 relief dollars — of which the state has about $7.5 billion — into projects that would grow the middle class and small businesses. The governor recently outlined a plan that would push $2.1 billion in American Rescue Plan dollars into skills training, redevelopment of old sites and buildings, and the development of economic resilience plans. 

Whitmer also urged lawmakers to stay focused on infrastructure, including water, roads, bridges and high speed internet, using both the dollars at their disposal and with expected additional investments from the federal government.