Moving into 2017, Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters plans to focus his efforts on cultivating Michigan as a hub for autonomous vehicle technology. For Peters, the state’s future hinges on growing Michigan’s ability to attract investment in autonomous technology. On the other hand, Peters worries that the president-elect’s hands-on economic development policies could leave behind small businesses in the state and elsewhere in the country. Peters spoke with MiBiz about his views on the year ahead and the challenges 2017 may bring.
What are some top policy initiatives you plan to champion in 2017?
My main focus has been working on advancing the self-driving vehicle efforts here in Michigan. We are entering into probably the most transformational stage of the auto industry since the first car came off of the assembly line with the amount of computer power and technology going into the vehicles. It was described to me that the moonshot for artificial intelligence is self-driving vehicles and when that’s fully developed, you’re going to see the artificial intelligence industry just skyrocket. If we are the center for self-driving vehicles, we will be the center for machine learning and AI, which will also put us at the center for most of the future industries in this country. To me, this is absolutely critical for the future of Michigan that we are at the forefront of this technology and dominate it in the years ahead.
Most executives we’ve spoken with are bullish on the incoming administration’s pro-business policies. In your mind, what does that say about the state of the economy moving forward?
Certainly, we are in a pretty good environment right now, but we have to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to participate in a more robust economy. That has been the problem over the last two decades. Most of the economic recovery has gone to the top 1 percent of folks in terms of wealth and income, and everyone else has been in more of a holding pattern. You can’t have a strong economy if everyone doesn’t have money in their pockets to spend. If those are the kinds of policies that President-elect Trump is putting forward, I will be trying to find ways that we can find common ground.
Are there policies where you and President-elect Trump overlap?
I’m not sure because he’s not been very specific.
Economic developers have expressed concern over the president-elect’s dabbling in state-level economic development with Carrier Corp. in Indiana. Say Trump went after a Michigan-based company. How would you react to that?
I certainly don’t think that the president-elect should be picking winners and losers of individual companies. An economic policy should not be driven by photo ops. I think that’s what we saw with the Carrier case. In my mind, you have to have a policy that impacts every business, large and small, and creates an environment that all businesses can flourish under, particularly small businesses. The engine of growth for America are our small businesses.
During the election and in the post-election environment, there seems to be a high degree of heated rhetoric. Will Democrats and Republicans be able to find consensus in 2017?
Of course, the Republicans have control of both the House and the Senate and the presidency. So it’s a completely different dynamic that we have. Certainly, my goal has always been to try to find ways that we can work in a bipartisan way. I feel that’s the best way to govern. Bipartisan means that we should have give and take, that no one party has a monopoly on ideas. My experience has been that both Republicans and Democrats have good ideas.
What needs have you been hearing from manufacturers and what policies do you think will be achievable next year?
Manufacturers want to see an overall strong economy, but a focus on manufacturing means you have trade laws that are fair. I’ve certainly been outspoken in my opposition to TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) because of its lack of foreign currency manipulation enforcement. I’ve heard very loud and clear from manufacturers that if you sign trade deals that are not fair and that don’t allow us to enforce the rules, that puts our manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage.
Interview conducted and condensed by John Wiegand. Courtesy photo