Presenting The Case For Continuity

September 23, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Both candidates for governor plan to maintain the state’s economic development agency intact, although some changes are in order once a new administration in Lansing takes over in January.

The exact nature of any changes that may occur have leaders of the largest economic development groups across Michigan uniting to advocate their views and maintain continuity in core state programs when the administration changes.

What they don’t want is a repeat of 12 years ago, when Gov. John Engler replaced former Gov. James Blanchard and completely revamped the state’s economic-development programs. The result was about a two-year lag before efforts picked up steam, said Birgit Klohs, president of The Right Place Program in Grand Rapids.

The goal of a loose-knit coalition of economic development leaders is a seamless transition that would maintain the MEDC’s core initiatives:

  • Development of the Life Sciences Corridor and the technology sector

  • Employer retention and recruitment

  • Workforce development

  • Improving the state’s business climate

  • Aggressively marketing the state to industries

  • Supporting major incentive programs such as tax-free Renaissance Zones and Brownfield redevelopment tax credits.

“This is a business of momentum and we have enormous competition,” Klohs said. “Really, this is a case, a plan, for continuity and to say ‘Keep our momentum.’ If we lose our momentum, it gives an opportunity to our competitors.”

Representatives from the campaigns of both gubernatorial candidates, Republican Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus and Democratic Attorney General Jennifer Granholm, pledged support for the MEDC’s continuation in its existing state.

“We ought to keep the MEDC doing what it’s done,” said Sage Eastman, communications director for the Posthumus campaign. “This is an organization that is doing very well and we need to continue in that direction.”

Changes Posthumus has in mind for the MEDC are to put more focus on assisting small businesses, Eastman said. Another major element of Posthumus’ economic development plan is working to continue improving the business climate in Michigan by reducing the tax burden, Eastman said.

Granholm, whose economic development position envisions creation of a council of economic advisors consisting of business, universities and labor leaders in the state, also plans to keep the MEDC “as is,” although with a higher emphasis on urban areas, campaign spokesman Chris DeWitt said.

Economic development chiefs in communities across the state shouldn’t worry about changes from Granholm that would derail the MEDC’s momentum, DeWitt said.

“It’s been a very effective organization in many respects and she wants to continue it,” DeWitt said. “I don’t think they’ll be disappointed in the road we’re taking.”

The positions of both candidates for governor appear to differ little with the coalition of economic development groups, and Klohs says she and her colleagues around the state are not concerned with the positions and proposals of either.

The unknown is the state Legislature. A majority of seats in both the state House and Senate will turn over this year because of term limits. The coalition, consisting of the 10 largest economic development organizations in Michigan and the state’s top two public utilities, Consumers Energy Co. and DTE Energy, hopes to provide guidance to “raise the profile” of the issue to incoming legislators on economic development priorities, as well as to the new governor.

“We’re saying, ‘Just in case you guys want to know, here’s what’s worked,’” Klohs said. “What we want is to at least be part of the debate. We want to be part of the discussion because we are the people in the field doing the work.”

For more on the positions of the candidates for governor, go online to www.dickposthumus.com and www.granholmforgov.com  

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