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What States Can Learn from Michigan's Recovery

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This week, as GE's national leaders visited Michigan to highlight additional investments in our economy and competitive future, it seems appropriate to reflect on how far we have come in the reinvention of our state.

As the global financial crisis grew in 2009, in the midst of the worst economic downturn in the United States since the Great Depression, we all remember that the outlook in Michigan was particularly bleak. Amid a national economy that was hemorrhaging jobs, our state faced an especially difficult climate. At that time, as the Chief Business Development Director of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation under then-Governor Jennifer Granholm, I was well aware of the statistics; by June of 2009, our state unemployment rate spiked to 15.2 percent, dwarfing the national rate of 9.5 percent and reaching Michigan's highest level of joblessness since 1983.

We watched as a national economic tsunami hit the Great Lakes State. As consumer confidence declined, sales dropped, and firms unable to make payroll were forced to lay off employees, which further slowed consumer spending, and caused yet more firms to shutter operations. As private sector dollars dried up, it was increasingly difficult to convince business leaders not only to maintain payrolls, but to expand operations and help turn things around.

Faced with a national economic crisis rooted in the collapse of our banking and housing markets, our state and local governments lacked badly needed resources in the face of vastly shrinking revenues. It was clear that growth could not return until businesses felt confident enough to invest again. It was clear that bold action was needed to staunch the bleeding.

And that's when companies like GE stepped in. At the height of this recession in June 2009, when most businesses were shedding workers and many political leaders were not sure which way was up, GE placed a bet on our state. They announced they would not only maintain operations, they would invest tens of millions of dollars in long-term growth and expansion. As CEO Jeff Immelt explained: "I believe that Michigan can partner with GE to create the next wave of economic progress."


The Advanced Manufacturing and Software Technology Center (AMSTC) opened its doors in Detroit in the fall of 2009, heralding in this new wave of progress for the state. They utilized a workforce renowned for its strength in manufacturing to build the next generation of aircraft engines, renewable energy solutions and high-tech innovation. Because Michigan has both an incredibly well-trained workforce and world-class universities, 90 percent of the new hires at the center hail from Michigan.

Through a combination of resolve, creative thinking and cooperation between public and private entities, GE's leaders not only helped to stop the bleeding, but breathed new life into our future. Michigan's strong education system provided skilled workers ready to stand on the front lines of 21st century industries. Taking a cue from Immelt's mantra that "companies like GE never travel alone," state and local governments did everything we could to extend a hand, in changing the narrative and luring investments in-state -- and we were right.

This cumulative effort proved to be the boost needed to reverse the downward spiral. Investment begat investment, confidence increased and markets rebounded. Other companies headquartered in Michigan joined GE to announce that they would double down on the state, linked by their historical roots in American manufacturing -- stood proudly alongside state and local governments in a united effort to buttress Michigan's economy.

Three years later, our initial instincts were right. Michigan is making an undeniable comeback, and providing a recovery blueprint for other manufacturing communities and the rest of the country. Unemployment has dropped to 8.5 percent -- the second fastest improvement of any state. Home sales are up and families are once again finding their footing. To date, the AMSTC employs more than 850 people, and statewide GE employs more than 3,000 workers. By 2013 the AMSTC will bring more than 1,100 jobs to Michigan.


GE has by no means engendered the Michigan Miracle alone; many businesses, investors, and government agencies have come together to support our state and to take advantage of an improving climate and a workforce that cannot be beaten. But while Michigan still has a ways to go, we can be confident that the model GE provided -- of strong investment, of public-private partnerships, and of aggressive leadership -- will bring us through the hard times to a brighter future.