Former Michigan economic development leader Michael Finney dies in Florida

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Miami – Friends and associates of former Michigan resident Michael A. Finney were stunned by his sudden death over the weekend in Florida.

Mr. Finney, who was president and CEO of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, a nonprofit public-private economic development organization in Florida, died after suffering a heart attack Sunday, according to friend and business associate Eric Knowles, CEO of the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce.

“From everything I knew he was in good health,” said Knowles. “He had just returned from a week-long business trip to Israel. He had made a quick impact here in just a short time.”

Michael Finney, then-president and CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., answered a question at the Detroit Economic Club luncheon at the MotorCity Casino Hotel in Detroit on Jan. 8, 2013. Mr. Finney went on to be president and CEO of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, a nonprofit public-private economic development organization in Florida. He, died after suffering a heart attack Sunday, according to friend and business associate Eric Knowles.

Mr. Finney, 65, of Coral Gables, moved to Florida in 2017 to lead the agency seeking to lure businesses, jobs and investment to the Miami-Dade area.

“Michael Finney was an eternal optimist. He spent his career helping communities grow, strengthening their economies, and creating pathways to prosperity for residents believing at his core that everyone deserved the chance to succeed,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava in a statement released by the Miami-Dade Beacon Council.

“Life is precious, and I am grateful for having had the good fortune to work closely with him as Mayor. I will especially cherish the memory of our week together in Israel, and the legacy of unwavering dedication he leaves behind.”

Mr. Finney served as a senior advisor on economic growth for former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and was president and CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. as well as other Michigan economic development organizations.

Mr. Finney also served as Snyder’s economic growth group executive and president and chairman of the Michigan Strategic Fund.

“The MEDC team mourns the loss of Mike Finney, as one of the most passionate, charismatic and committed leaders in the world of economic development," the MEDC said in a statement Monday.

"As a proud Michigan native, Mike served this state with distinction for many years, three of which were spent pursuing his passion of building a brighter future for Michigan while at the helm of MEDC. Our organization – and all of Michigan – are no doubt better off today because of Mike’s tremendous service, care and commitment to making sure our work to create upward economic mobility was felt by every resident throughout our state.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Mike’s wife, Gina, his sons Michael Jr., Marcus and Austin, and his grandchildren as they process this devastating loss.”

Snyder posted a statement on Facebook Monday.

“Yesterday, we lost an amazing individual who made a positive impact on many people, including me," Snyder wrote. "Mike was many things — a wonderful husband to Gina, father to his children, a smart and thoughtful leader, and a good friend. I had the honor of working with Mike three times. At the MEDC in the 1990s, at (Ann Arbor) Spark in the 2000s, and the MEDC in the 2010s. Each time, it was a wonderful experience that helped me grow.

"Mike brought together a great combination of common sense, intelligence, caring and fun. I was disappointed when he left Michigan; but still excited for Gina and him. I knew he would help Miami Dade a lot; but I also knew his golf score would improve since he could play year round. Mike and his family are in my thoughts and prayers. Thank you, Mike, you will be missed!”

Mr. Finney worked at the MEDC as vice president, emerging business sectors, from 2000 to 2002 before becoming president and CEO of Greater Rochester Enterprise in Rochester, New York, according to his LinkedIn page. He led Ann Arbor Spark, an economic development agency, from 2005 to 2011, before leading the MEDC for four years.

The family could not be reached for comment Monday. Funeral arrangements were pending.

A Flint native, Mr. Finney earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from Saginaw Valley State University and a master's degree in human resources from Central Michigan University. 

Mr. Finney, pictured in 2011, was president and CEO of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, a nonprofit public-private economic development organization in Florida. He, died after suffering a heart attack Sunday, according to friend and business associate Eric Knowles, CEO of the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce.

Florida attorney Jaret Davis noted Mr. Finney had distinguished himself as a senior vice president and general manager at Thomson Saginaw Ball Screw for 13 years in Saginaw before working in the public sector and “the role he cherished most was teaching and mentoring the next generation as a lecturer within the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan; a role he was just starting to replicate here in Miami.”

He worked for Thomson Saginaw from 1987 to 2000, according to his LinkedIn page.

Davis said Mr. Finney was “universally recognized as one of the top thinkers in the United States with respect to economic development.”

Davis said that Mr. Finney’s “strategic mind gave Miami-Dade County a number of gifts including game-changing initiatives like Miami Community Ventures, Opportunity Miami and Miami’s bid to win Amazon’s HQ2, the bid, while not successful, directly led to the tech renaissance Miami is currently experiencing.”

Mr. Finney was regularly sought to serve on boards of directors in Florida, he added.

The Beacon Council in a statement said Mr. Finney led the organization to break multiple records, most recently in 2021 with 32 companies committing to almost 14,000 new direct and indirect jobs, almost $1 billion in annual economic impact for the Miami-Dade area. 

He was recently appointed to the Board of Directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s Miami Branch, and served on other boards including Baptist Health South Florida, Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau and Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, the statement said.

“This is a massive loss for Miami-Dade County, but it’s also a legacy,” Davis said of Mr. Finney’s death. “His legacy to us is one of an enhanced strategy for our community going forward, an enhanced level of inclusion to ensure all in our community benefit from that strategy and an enhanced focus on regionalism which can propel our community to its destiny of being one of the United States’ truly great cities.”

Former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who is now president and CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan, wrote on Twitter: "It was a real gift to know Mike. The sentiment in the words from his friends in Miami-Dade are all true. Reading this, so many memories come back. We were lucky to have him in Michigan.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

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