Commentary
1:10 pm
Wed January 12, 2011

The Governor and The Auto Show

Governor Rick Snyder visited the Detroit auto show yesterday, something governors traditionally do. They greet the CEOs, make nice comments about the new models, and disappear.

I can’t recall a single thing any politician has said at the auto show that was worth remembering.  But this year is a little different. Two years ago, it was highly uncertain whether there would be either an domestic auto industry or an auto show in 2011.

What’s more, almost nobody in the industry or the state had ever heard of Rick Snyder, and nobody imagined he’d be governor.

Well, the auto industry is a good bit healthier today, and the state is getting used to a governor who doesn’t like to wear a tie, and doesn’t mind being called a nerd. Like other governors before him, Snyder didn’t say anything especially stirring at the auto show. But he did a few things worth noting. He didn’t just visit what we might now call the not-so-big three, Ford, General Motors and Chrysler. He stopped by Kia and Hyundai and Toyota too.

The governor seems to have spent a fair amount of time with Sergio Marchionne, who is head of Chrysler, but also runs what is now its parent company, the Italian automaker Fiat.

And perhaps most remarkably, Snyder met with a number of alternative and renewable energy companies at a private reception yesterday before giving his formal remarks at the auto show. 

His message seemed to be this: His administration is all about bringing the jobs of the future to Michigan, wherever they are to be found and whatever it takes to create them here. To quote our new governor, “It is companies, it is innovators, it is entrepreneurs who are going to create a better future for Michigan.”

As he sees it, his job is to make sure they find a fertile seed bed. Or as he put it, “We are committed to creating the very best environment in the world to create that formula for success.”

Next week, when he makes his state of the state speech, and next month, when he unveils his first budget, we’ll get a better idea how he intends to make that come about. My guess is that his approach will completely please neither Republicans nor Democrats.  Governor Snyder wants to lessen the tax burden on business, and do so without raising taxes. That’s going to mean massive sacrifices across the board, unless someone repeals the laws of mathematics. Yet Rick Snyder also has signaled a commitment to common sense over ideology.

And that may force some revenue increases out of sheer necessity. The governor knows that nobody is about to bring new high-tech industry to a state where the infrastructure is falling apart and where the public schools have failed. He owes his success in part to the three degrees he’s earned from the University of Michigan, and I assume he values public higher education as well. 

Yesterday, the governor praised the spirit that brought the auto industry back from its near-death experience.

He’s clearly hoping to do the same as well, with the business he’s running these days, an outfit called the state of Michigan.

Stay tuned for further developments