Build the bridge and bring federal tax dollars home

June 3, 2011
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Many businesses in the western region of Michigan  — and probably across every region of the peninsula state — are likely encouraged by Gov. Rick Snyder’s bridge-building pronouncements of last week, even as they suffer the current inadequacies in moving product across the Ambassador Bridge, owned by a Detroit family. The Business Journal has long reported on that frustration, fraught by long delays, even to the point of re-routing truckers south across state lines rather than burn high-priced fuel while waiting to cross. Undelivered product does not create value in a just-in-time world; it creates a crisis.

In a flat world with worldwide competitors, such delays are intolerable. According to the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce study of regional export, one in seven Grand Rapids area jobs is tied to trade with Canada, a significant part of the $44 billion per year in trade between Michigan and Canada. Trade with Canada now stands at 60 percent of all trade related to Michigan companies. Michigan’s business exports have continued to increase in double digits the past five months, as reported in the Business Journal by e-forecasting.

It is no wonder the Canadians have offered to fund $550 million of Michigan’s cost for the project, money that helped to secure $2.2 billion in federal highway funds for Michigan over five years. These are funds that also will help pay for other transportation construction projects across the state. Let’s underscore here that Michigan has always been a “donor” state receiving far fewer federal transportation tax dollars returned than sent by Michigan taxpayers. The fight to regain those dollars has been waged by three Michigan governors. On the eve of his first State of the State speech, Gov. Snyder returned from an unpublicized trip to D.C., securing agreement for those federal funds. As the Business Journal commented then: “Brilliant.”

The speed with which enabling legislation was introduced last week may be the only surprise for those anxiously anticipating the next step, even if such speed can now be anticipated from Snyder. Sen. Majority leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, gave motion to the bill that will be in front of the Senate Economic Development Committee, chaired by Mike Kowali, R-White Lake Twp.

Quick action also was encouraged last week by Mackinac Policy Conference speaker Michael Porter, a Harvard Business School professor who is held in high esteem by companies — and countries — for his expertise in competitiveness. (The Policy Conference is sponsored annually by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce and draws business participants from across the state.) Porter noted Michigan’s geographic location at the Canadian border as a tremendous asset, calling it “very strategic” in terms of world trade and competitiveness. “Open the borders to the world,” he encouraged, a day after Snyder told conference attendees bridge building is his next agenda action item.

Indeed, Michigan wants a return on those federal taxes so long lost in D.C.

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