Gov. Rick Snyder is wrapping up a week-long trade mission to Europe, which brought him to the Paris International Auto Show as well as to meetings in Germany and Italy. He’s been joined by several Michigan business and economic development leaders, including representatives from Grand Rapids-based The Right Place Inc. However, in the time he’s been gone, economic development legislation he’s championed has come to a halt and last week saw the indictment of one of his appointees over allegations related to the ongoing Flint water crisis. Snyder spoke with MiBiz on these topics and others on Friday morning from Milan, Italy.
The Good Jobs for Michigan legislation you’ve championed has stalled as the House GOP has alleged you’ve made secret deals. Can you respond to those allegations?
Good Jobs for Michigan is a package that’s good for Michigan. It’s not about partisanship. It’s about more and better jobs for all the citizens of Michigan. The way I view it, isn’t it appropriate that when you’re trying to get legislation passed you talk to Republicans, Democrats, anyone. Isn’t it good we bring on as many people on board and work together to solve problems?
You’ve said publicly that there’s some urgency to get this legislation passed. Given the reports of Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn Technology Group’s interest in the state, does the legislation being stalled present challenges?
I think they come back in session for a day in July and I hope there’s an opportunity to get it passed then. There have been various press reports about Foxconn — I can’t speak to any particular company — but there’s public reports out there saying their decision timetable is in August. So I think there’s still an opportunity to get it done, but those opportunities are relatively limited. So let’s think about what’s best for all of Michigan, let’s not think about politics. Let’s get this done and let’s create more jobs in Michigan.
When you go on these trade missions, do you find challenges with selling the state given some of the issues we’ve had in the legislature?
Generally it doesn’t. This Good Jobs thing is sort of the exception in terms of seeing more partisan comments. Generally we’re viewed as a great state. Look at our track record as this place to do business and such. We’re number one in the country for creating manufacturing jobs. So our track record is very strong and we’re viewed as very much a positive in terms of what government has become and in terms of a place that understands the balance of how to help our people get great career opportunities.
Given the indictments that came down earlier this month from Attorney General Bill Schuette regarding the Flint water crisis, do you have concerns as you look to the final year-and-a-half of your time in office?
What I would say with respect to that, those folks deserve their day in court. They should have that and I would encourage that to happen in a speedy fashion. And again, our system of justice is based on the concept that people are innocent until (proven) guilty. Let’s have them have their day in court, let’s get answers and let’s move forward. In the meantime, we’ve been working hard for several years on Flint’s recovery and making all of Michigan stronger. We’ve seen a lot of positive reports on that.
What do you see coming out of this most recent European trade mission, particularly on the West Michigan front?
The goal is more and better jobs. To get people to invest in our state and to grow in our state. The feedback was very positive. With respect to the Air Show, we ran across a number of companies who have strong presence already in West Michigan, but confirmed they’re having great experiences and hopefully they’ll continue to grow.
Can you say who?
Well-known names: Hutchinson, GE (Aviation). They’re all doing well. With respect to prospects, I think we ran across a number of prospects interested in West Michigan and Michigan overall. Here in Italy, it was great. I met with a biotech company that would provide ingredients for the foodservice industry. Sort of value-added agricultural processing. We had a very good discussion about their interest in potentially coming to West Michigan.
What’s the general strategy to take conversations had during these trade missions and turn them into tangible results for the state?
I think we have a very strong track record. They vary all over the board. Some have Michigan presence already, some are brand new to Michigan or brand new to the United States. A lot of it is getting the most up-to-date information on Michigan’s economic resurgence — our reinvention. We’ve got a wonderful track record.
If you look at it, we were a bottom-10 state as a place to do business during ‘the lost decade.’ Now we’re a top-10 state. That’s because we’ve done some fundamental reforms of our tax and regulatory systems. We’ve got the talent. There’s two or three things that get their attention.
What are those?
We’re number one in the country in the creation of manufacturing jobs over the last six years. The entire country. Then we talk to them about how we’re seeing net inbound Bachelor’s degrees. We lead the Midwestern states in having more inbound Bachelor’s states than any of our surrounding states. That’s a big deal in terms of the talent challenges out there. And then all the wonderful things we’re doing, not only with engineers, but with the professional trades and technician talent.