From Michigan Development Guide 2023

Team Michigan Competes To Win

Here’s how you land $20 billion in deals in a little over a year.

Why Michigan
Sunset over Detroit, Michigan.
Photo: Getty Images

by Ron Starner

f you want to know why so many companies are investing their capital into new plant operations in Michigan, consider the factors driving this expansion wave.

From investment-ready sites and high-quality transportation infrastructure to abundant power and water resources that are readily available and affordable, Michigan competes at an elite level for business.

But there is one other factor that does not get the attention it deserves, and that is the ability and willingness of economic development leaders at every level of the state to work together to make a deal happen.

It is called the Team Michigan approach — and it works.

No one knows this better than Terri Fitzpatrick, executive vice president and chief real estate and global attraction officer for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). She joined the MEDC in December 2021 to lead the state’s site readiness and global attraction efforts. Since her arrival, Michigan has landed approximately $20 billion in capital investment projects from investors both foreign and domestic, and the state is far from done.

“I have worked in commercial development for 35 years,” said Fitzpatrick. “There must be a partnership with the state and local government for capital-intensive projects to get done.”

She knows because she has seen those partnerships work firsthand. “Michigan has great partners across all the agencies,” she said. “Whoever we need to bring in across state government to get a deal done, we do it. We have an all-of-Team Michigan approach. From the local level to the state level and including the engagement of our energy partners, this team approach is critical.”

Fitzpatrick said this approach is even more essential now that Michigan has established itself as a premier destination for large-scale plants in the semiconductor, electric vehicle (EV) and EV battery production sectors.

Putting Its Money Where Its Mouth Is

“Product development has changed the game too,” she said. “Michigan is so well situated to win in all these sectors. We are one of the lowest states in terms of natural disasters. We have all the existing environmental conditions needed. We have great utility partners. And we have a consistent and sustained funding model for talent and sites.”

The numbers bolster her claims:

  • Michigan has the fifth largest advanced manufacturing workforce in the country.
  • Ninety-six of the top 100 automotive suppliers to North America have a presence in Michigan.
  • Michigan has the most extensive network of autonomous vehicle and mobility testing infrastructure in the country.
  • Michigan has the nation’s greatest concentration of mechanical and industrial engineers.
  • Michigan’s cost of living is 10% lower than the national average, making Michigan the fifth most affordable state in the country.
  • Michigan ranks in the top 10 nationally for total STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) degree completions.
  • Michigan has the nation’s third highest concentration of electrical engineers.
  • Michigan employs 4,500 commercial and industrial designers, the most in the nation.

The list of accolades and top-tier national rankings goes on, but the point is well established: When it comes to the most important site selection criteria that drive the highest value-added manufacturing investments, Michigan competes to win at a championship level.

“Whoever we need to bring in across state government to get a deal done, we do it. We have an all-of-Team Michigan approach.”

— Terri Fitzpatrick, Executive Vice President, Chief Real Estate and Global Attraction Officer, Michigan Economic Development Corporation

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer plans to keep it that way. While traveling in Switzerland earlier this year to participate in the World Economic Forum, she took time to do some business recruiting and tout her home state.

Gov. Whitmer met with executives from Norwegian hydrogen company Nel Hydrogen, making the case for Michigan’s talented workforce, attractive business climate and focus on clean hydrogen development.

At SelectUSA in May, Nel announced plans to establish an automated gigawatt electrolyzer manufacturing facility in Michigan, investing up to $400 million and creating more than 500 clean energy manufacturing jobs in the state.

Deal Flow Keeps Michigan Humming

Whitmer noted that word has gotten out. “They are seeing the announcements that we have made. They are seeing the investment that is happening. People know Michigan is open for business. They see that we are moving fast. I have gotten a lot of interest in my travel in terms of what is happening in Michigan.”

When people ask her about the presence of skilled labor in Michigan, she responds that “it is in our DNA. We have a proud history.” She also reminds them that her administration has launched programs that connect Michigan workers to training and education. These include new tuition grants for essential laborers and adults over 25.

Programs like these are a big reason Michigan is winning investment deals from companies large and small. In January 2022, General Motors announced its decision to commit $7 billion in additional capital to making EVs in the state. Gentex planned a $300 million investment to expand its operations in Zeeland last summer. And just last March, LG Energy announced plans to build a $1.7 billion factory for making EV batteries in Holland, Michigan.

Last June, Ford Motor Company added to this investment wave by announcing an additional $2 billion in new factory investments to make EVs at various locations across the state. Ford followed that up by announcing $3.5 billion in capital spending at the Marshall mega-site earlier this year. 

Mobility companies aren’t the only ones investing and expanding in Michigan. Pfizer is spending $750 million to increase its production capacity in Kalamazoo, while Carhartt is expanding its product design, digital marketing and customer care operations in Dearborn. Smaller firms choose Michigan too. SnackCraft is growing in Kentwood; Traverse City Whiskey is adding to its capacity in Traverse City; and Calumet Electronics Corporation is expanding its manufacturing facility in the Keweenaw Peninsula.  

How Michigan Mines Talent

Companies big and small both need one thing more than any other: access to talent. Michigan provides that in droves. No one understands this better than Kerry Ebersole Singh, executive vice president and chief talent solutions and engagement officer for MEDC.

“Michigan is mobilizing to meet business needs,” she says. “MEDC CEO Quentin L. Messer quickly moved to create a new executive level position to focus on talent. I came over and started this back in November of 2021. It is about prioritization of workforce and talent solutions and helping businesses meet the challenges faced in this market. We provide a tuition-free pathway for adult learners to earn degrees. I launched the Sixty by 30 initiative — 60% of Michigan workers having a degree or certificate by 2030. It is designed to support frontline workers. It enables them to get their education and training tuition-free. It is an exciting accomplishment to get these programs off the ground. Having flexible workforce solutions is the key. We work hand in glove with employers on solutions.”

Ebersole Singh adds that “we are also engaged in attraction efforts. We have elevated our game in articulating our value proposition. We have 22% of the world’s freshwater. We have trails, skiing, boating and large cities. We have innovative restaurants with a really cool vibe. We want to take that message and communicate that to retain talent and attract talent. People want to be here. They are choosing Michigan.”

None of this activity would be possible without the array of assets Michigan brings to the table. Nor would it happen without the Team Michigan approach that convenes all the essential parties at that table.

In Michigan, that’s how deals get done. 

Michigan State Capitol Building in Lansing.
Photos courtesy of MEDC

Ron Starner
Executive Vice President of Conway, Inc.

Ron Starner

Ron Starner is Executive Vice President of Conway Data, Inc. He has been with Conway Data for 22 years and serves as a writer and editor for both Site Selection and the company's Custom Content publishing division. His Twitter handle is @RonStarner.


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