Just over a month ago, Michigan-based Ford Motor Co. announced it would establish two “massive” campuses focused on electric vehicles in Tennessee and Kentucky and create, with a battery manufacturing partner named SK Innovation, nearly 12,000 jobs in those states. It will be a $11.4 billion investment that Michigan will miss out on.
In response, Whitmer told reporters: “In terms of us having tools that we need to be competitive, I’m always looking to make Michigan more competitive, and (I’m) always eager to put solutions on the table. But we needed a real opportunity to do that. And that really wasn’t the case here.”
But it rarely is “the case” with Whitmer, because she doesn’t look for “real opportunities” or try to make them happen. Everybody in the business and economic development community, particularly in the states that are taking advantage of Michigan’s languor, knows this. Michigan under Whitmer appears to have forgotten what “site selection” is all about.
Meanwhile, the headlines in The Tennessee Journal ran this way: “WEST TENNESSEE MEGASITE LANDS HUGE FORD PLANT” and “GOV. BILL LEE BASKS IN FORD PLAUDITS.” The attendant narrative ran this way: “Fresh off the blockbuster announcement that Ford would place a massive electric vehicle and battery plant in West Tennessee, Lee was the star of the show when the International Economic Development Council held its annual conference in Nashville this week … Former Gov. Bill Haslam praised the Ford deal as the ‘most significant’ economic development announcement since Nissan selected Smyrna for its first U.S. assembly plant in 1980…”
The Tennessee Journal’s Oct. 1 issue said this: “For 15 years, state officials traveled the globe to promote a sprawling site in rural West Tennessee to industrial investors. They found no success as a variety of projects went to other states. All that changed this week when Ford announced plans to build a $5.6 million campus to make electric trucks and batteries at the site, creating 5,800 new jobs and transforming the rural landscape into what the automaker has dubbed BLUE OVAL CITY.” The neighboring Commonwealth of Kentucky will enjoy a similar size economic windfall.
Don’t look for anything like this to happen in Michigan anytime soon.
Ford is headquartered in Dearborn. The Detroit News reported that Quentin Messer, Jr., CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., said the state was “not actively involved” in the siting of Ford’s new plans.
The News’s Craig Mauger quoted Martin Gunsberg, a Ford spokesman, saying that “location decisions for the new plants were based on several factors, including size, shovel-readiness, transportation and proximity to other electric vehicle sites.”
“Michigan did not have the type of sites needed for this project, so they were not part of the formal bid process,” Günsberg added.
Michigan’s electricity prices are another factor that puts the state at a disadvantage for such projects, according to the News. In July, the average industrial price of electricity per kilowatt-hour in Michigan was 8 cents compared with the national average of 7.53 cents, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Tennessee’s price was 5.85 cents, Kentucky’s was 6.06 cents and nearby Ohio’s was 6.63 cents.
What has been the reaction of the Michigan news media to Ford’s stunning announcement? For the most part, crickets.
It wasn’t always this way. Back when there was a Republican governor, John Engler, and a Republican in the White House, George H.W. Bush, what Michigan readers heard, read and saw was much different. Here’s an article by Rick Pluta, then of United Press International, on Feb. 24, 1992 — nearly three decades ago.
Willow Run workers stunned, angered by GM decision
‘I think the governor left a lot to be desired,’ he said.
Harlow said those who will be hurt by GM’s decision will range far beyond the Willow Run plant, ranging from automotive suppliers who service the plant to merchants who sell goods and services to GM workers.
‘This is also going to hurt your ‘Mom and Pop’ supermarket on the corner,’ he said.
‘I feel sold out,’ said Harry Harvey, 35, of Detroit, as he was leaving the plant Monday afternoon. ‘I still hope we’re going to have another car. I think we still have one round to go.’
While refusing to release details of any offers the UAW made to GM, union officials estimated the cost of making a car at Willow Run is still $300 to $400 less than at Arlington.
‘The package we gave them, I don’t think any plant could have matched that offer,’ Harlow said.
Harlow said GM workers at Willow Run, as well as the other plants GM is closing — including Flint, Saginaw and Detroit in Michigan — will have the option of transferring to some plants that will remain open.
He said the average Willow Run worker is 40 years old with 20 years of experience.
In Lansing, Engler called GM’s announcement ‘tragic for the men and women at Willow Run and their families and the community. It’s also a tragedy for Michigan.’
Engler said the company’s decision supports his contention that Michigan needs lower taxes. Otherwise, he said, ‘Our jobs will take a hike — to Texas.’
Ypsilanti City Manager Herbert Gilsdorf said the city woke up Monday morning fully expecting that Willow Run would be the plant kept open.
‘We were quietly getting ready to throw confetti. Today was going to be the party, now it’s a wake,’ he said. ‘We have empty storefronts; now obviously there’s going to be more.'”
Remember, what Michigan lost in the Ypsilanti 1992 closing was a drop in the bucket (4,000 jobs) compared with what Michigan FAILED TO GET OR EVEN COMPETE FOR (12,000 jobs) in the Ford announcement just five weeks ago.
And, by the way, Engler’s beloved father, Matt Engler, had just died during that 1992 winter night when GM dropped its bombshell. The governor could have bowed out of his scheduled appearance before the Ypsilanti Chamber of Commerce (the backyard of Willow Run) where the baying hounds of the Democratic Party, the local labor union, and the MSM were lying in wait to heap abuse on the governor’s “failure” to “save” Michigan’s auto jobs. An Engler aide told him that “people would certainly understand” if he didn’t go. But Engler replied, “No, I gave my commitment to be there — we’re going.”
Engler’s instincts were right. He withstood the barrage of questions that night. In 1994, Engler won a massive re-election victory.
Today, what is even more stunning is the silence on the Ford announcement of the various GOP candidates for governor in 2022. This should be as viable an issue as what is taught in local K-12 schools was for Glenn Youngkin in Virginia last week. But it’s not — a sign that none of the Republicans running for the state’s top office is up to speed, meaning that Whitmer is headed for almost certain re-election.
Maybe Michigan’s citizenry should just brace themselves and wait for 2027, when things MIGHT begin to get better for Michigan.