Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is in Europe this week, serving as Michigan’s promoter-in-chief as she touts the state as a prime place to do business.
Dubbed an “economic investment mission,” Whitmer spent time meeting with Norwegian officials from the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy before heading to the annual confab of global elite hosted by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Included was a thank-you tour of businesses that have announced expansions in Michigan.
There’s unusually little snow in Davos, but regardless Whitmer hasn’t had any times to hit the Swiss slopes anyway.
“They’re running me ragged, but it’s been productive and I’m grateful for the chance to brag about state of Michigan,” Whitmer said in an interview from Switzerland.
Whitmer said she had sought to sign a memorandum of understanding with the country, but a spokesperson later clarified the delegation, which included leaders from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, wasn’t able to get to the matter with Norwegian officials. She presented the officials with Stormy Kromer hats, which are made in the Upper Peninsula’s Iron Mountain.
Tuesday, Whitmer joined an international panel in Davos titled “the return of manufacturing,” and as a response to each of the moderator’s questions did just sang the state’s praises, touting Michigan as “the number one state for clean energy jobs in the country.”
She also touched on a longtime workforce development goal in Michigan — the promotion of skilled trades.
“We’ve done ourselves, I think, a disservice in the United States … with a focus only on degree pathways into prosperity and discouraging, inadvertently, paths into the trades where you can make a really great living and be your own boss in a lot of respects,” Whitmer said in the panel.
Whitmer made her administration’s ability to lure development to Michigan via billions in economic incentives a major pillar of her reelection campaign. The trip this week was a related effort, with a stated focus on “attracting job-creating business investments.” All of the publicly reported meetings Whitmer held were with companies that have already invested in Michigan.
The Mackinac Center, a libertarian-leaning nonprofit that has long been vocally opposed to economic incentives, blasted the trip.
“The Governor’s strategy is to give a handful of companies massive checks from the government,” fiscal policy director James Hohman said in a statement. “This is a marketing ploy, not an economic advantage. State subsidies are ineffective at creating jobs, unfair to the businesses that don’t get them and comes at a high cost to taxpayers.”
Other Republicans have criticized some of state government’s biggest gets in recent years, such as the massive Gotion battery plant in Big Rapids. Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon was vocally against the move because of the company’s Chinese origins.
Whitmer’s predecessor, Republican Rick Snyder, attended a World Economic Forum event in Tianjin, China in 2018. Snyder also visited Switzerland in 2016 as part of a swing through Europe. A torn Achilles tendon prevented him from speaking at the Davos forum in 2015.
Whitmer said the interested generated by putting Michigan on Davos’ high-profile stage made the trip worthwhile.
“We’ve seen a lot of people reaching out asking to learn more to follow up and I think that’s really a great value for our state,” she said.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker were also in attendance in Davos this week.
The World Economic Forum has become a boogeyman in some conservative circles for its promotion of international economic cooperation between governments and industry.
The House’s nascent freedom caucus, a group of the chamber’s most conservative members, had a more constrained critique of the trip. Four members issued a joined statement saying, among other things, they were concerned about Whitmer’s attendance because the World Economic Forum “is a major promoter of globalism.”
Former Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey gave a conspiracy-laden farewell speech last month that claimed the World Economic Forum was at the “forefront” of efforts to establish “one world religion” among a slew of other unfounded accusations.
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