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Sunday, 27 April 2014 22:00

Former Gov. Engler: Michigan manufacturing ‘on the mend’

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John Engler John Engler COURTESY PHOTO

Former three-term Michigan governor John Engler has been a long-time advocate for manufacturing — both in the state and around the country. He served for six years as president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers and is now president of Business Roundtable, a national CEO group advocating for public policy that encourages economic growth. Engler, who was the keynote speaker at the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual spring advocacy event, spoke to MiBiz about his view of the current state of Michigan manufacturing.

Given your background and familiarity with the state, how would you assess Michigan from a manufacturing standpoint?

There’s no question that Michigan is on the mend. You’re seeing that with the dramatic improvement in the unemployment rate, the improvement in the business tax competitiveness of the state. Everyone around Michigan, namely Ohio and Indiana, (is) working hard to improve, so there is no time to rest. But it’s nice to see Michigan getting back in the game, and I think it’s a tribute to Gov. Snyder and his legislature, but also to the business community that has been so supportive. They took a good hard look at where they were and then stepped up.

What’s the impact of many of the manufacturing assembly jobs going to the southern states or to Mexico, even as Michigan retains much of the engineering and R&D?

Manufacturing is changing. The old style manufacturing jobs aren’t really existing anywhere because technology is playing such a role. Even the modern manufacturing facility today is directly employing fewer people. But they are employing many more people, who I think are inappropriately counted as service workers when they’re servicing equipment, machines and technology. I’ve said for some time that we need to look at the census data and redefine what we call a ‘manufacturing job.’ We’re not getting credit for the multiplying factor of a manufacturing plant because today so much of what makes that plant a success is something that is happening outside the plant.

What impact would the personal property tax repeal on capital equipment have, should it be approved by voters?

I’m not familiar with the specifics of Michigan’s proposal because I haven’t been here and I haven’t been part of that debate, but I would certainly argue that the personal property tax was a bit of a barrier. That is a Michigan-unique tax in the way it is administered and collected. We had a positive impact the way we did school financing, but many states we were competing against didn’t have that tax at all. So for certain industries, it was a disincentive and I would have to assume that a proposal being advanced is designed to improve the competitiveness of the state. That’s a good thing.

Interview conducted and condensed by Nick Manes. Courtesy photo.

Read 4032 times Last modified on Sunday, 27 April 2014 22:38