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Passage of "Good Jobs" plan in Lansing is about business, not politics

Jul 15, 2017

After a year of dithering, a bipartisan bloc of state lawmakers scored this week for competition.

You see, Michigan is an economy that’s been riding a seven-year expansion in auto sales, corporate tax reform and smarter fiscal management. But it hasn’t been enough to compete against fellow industrial states and then some.

Not against Ohio, for example, where economic development incentives are financed partly by booze. Buy a bottle of whiskey, and a slice of your buck goes to wooing corporations to the Buckeye state.

And not against the Carolinas or Alabama, where cash incentives to create jobs are apparently as common as rooting for the Crimson Tide.

Credit Daniel Howes / Detroit News

Enter the “Good Jobs for Michigan” package. It was pushed by a coalition of business and civic groups, labor and management, Democrats and Republicans. Along with Governor Rick Snyder, they studied the evidence and came to realize something important:

You can’t win the interstate competition for jobs and investment if you aren’t in the game. You can’t compensate for great transportation corridors in Ohio and Indiana or Michigan’s chronic inability to deliver a new bridge to the busiest international border crossing in North America with, well, not much.

To be clear: this is not a revival of the Granholm-era tax credits that rescued more than a few Michigan auto plants from closure, only to become massive financial hangovers when the bills came due. Nor is it the modern equivalent of subsidizing favored industries.

These new incentives are intended to woo big investment with the promise of so-called “tax capture” only when new jobs are created and sustained. These are intended to fill a widely accepted hole in Michigan’s competitive posture, and do it without favoring politically preferred industries.

Doing nothing isn’t being responsible. It’s unilateral disarmament. If there’s any state in the union that should be open for business, it’s Michigan. If there are any cities that should be clamoring for ways to invite capital and make it feel welcome, it’s Detroit. And Pontiac. And Saginaw.

News flash: Republican ideologues don’t make the unofficial rules governing the economic free-for-all currently pitting state against state. Nor do libertarians hoping for some kind of economic nirvana that doesn’t exist. Global business is in charge. And that offers lawmakers and governors around the country a stark choice: Get with the game or watch from the sidelines.

Over the past decade, Michigan survived the biggest economic shock to its system in at least 50 years. But it’s poorer. And educational attainment is flat-lining. The state remains burdened by its home-to-organized-labor stigma, whatever the fact of being a right-to-work state. And its image as a great place to do business in the industrial heartland needs all the help it can get.

The Good Jobs plan is a step in that direction because doing nothing is not an option.

Daniel Howes is a columnist with The Detroit News. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.