Governor Talks In GR, But Walks The Money Elsewhere

April 19, 2004
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Everyone was agreeably surprised early this year when the governor repeatedly brought her show to Grand Rapids to sound out community leaders and manufacturers about economic challenges facing Michigan.

In town-meeting style discussions, she encouraged the belief that she and her entourage really worry about the future of automotive suppliers. It was a most convincing we-feel-your-pain act.

Too, her carefully timed nods, frowns and smiles gave at least the appearance of understanding manufacturers’ concerns that public education is performing far below the mark. She asked what to do about it, while committing to absolutely nothing.

Later, when Johnson Controls announced it is moving an operation to Mexico on the heels of Electrolux, she joined the West Michigan crowd that was damning NAFTA.

Admittedly, at first, there was some local disappointment with the governor’s early policies. Seemingly minutes after taking office, she downgraded funding for the Life Science Corridor to a pittance.

The corridor is a vision of Michigan being the eventual bioindustrial hub of the Midwest — a Silicon Corridor, if you like, that might come on line in time to take up the slack of the increasingly stressed auto industry. But the governor papered over that vision with her Technology Tri-Corridor, keeping funding for that gizmo at a minimum, too.

The problem, she explains ad nauseum, is the enormous budget deficit that the Engler Administration left her. But the deficit will grow as long as she leaves Lansing content to surcharge the state payroll by ascending annual percentages — 35 percent in the current year — to finance retirees’ platinum-plated health care benefits. No state official seems willing to discuss, let alone face, this lurking 800-pound fiscal gorilla.

Well, as they say, you-know-what talks, but money walks. 

Last week the governor walked the walk and definitely didn’t come to Grand Rapids.

She announced more than $1 million in Economic Development Job Training Grants for specialized manufacturing training to “1,760 Michigan workers at 63 companies.” According to her office, this drop in the bucket is being directed to “strengthen Michigan’s workforce” as part of her “focused, seven-point plant for economic growth.”

A lone West Michigan entity, the Northwest Ottawa Chamber Foundation, will receive some of those funds to train people at five firms.

Apparently the governor is leaving Grand Rapids pretty much on its own.

Over time, and through venues such as The Right Place Inc., this town has shown it can take care of itself while also influencing national policy. And while globalization, ferocious OEM demands and recession have battered the automotive supply industry, aggressive and innovative suppliers here nonetheless have shown the ability to row against the current while working together for shared goals. 

Relying on the same aggressiveness and tenacity, perhaps this community can — on its own — fan the Life Sciences Corridor vision back to life by aggregating the funds to bring a full-sized medical school to Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids probably can count on Granholm to lead cheers from the sidelines.

But somehow we can’t see this governor getting into the game until this community is well within easy reach of its goal.    

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