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Business Leaders’ poll shows support for tax incentives, spending stimulus funds on

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Just one-in-six Michigan voters thinks the state has a long-term strategy for attracting new jobs and business investment.

About 71 percent of Michigan voters believe job-creation policy depends on who’s in office, according to a new statewide poll commissioned by Business Leaders for Michigan.

In case that doesn’t inspire confidence in the cohesiveness of Michigan’s economic development planning, the poll has some more dour news for the state’s leadership class:

When asked to compare Michigan’s competitiveness to nine other states, Michigan voters said they believe the Great Lakes State is only more competitive than Mississippi for jobs.

That bears repeating: Mississippi.

Passing Michigan in the confidence of its own residents? Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

Business Leaders for Michigan paid Lansing-based Glengariff Group Inc. to conduct the statewide poll, in part, to assess voter support for new tax incentive programs in the wake of Ford Motor Co. and a partner investing $11.4 billion in electric vehicle plants in Tennessee and Kentucky that will create 11,000 new jobs in those states.

What the poll revealed is Michigan voters want their political leaders to at least be in the tax incentive ballgame with other states for new jobs (which was not the case for Ford).

“If there’s an issue that can actually unite Michiganders, it’s this idea that we should be out there fighting to keep the auto industry here in Michigan and competing against other states,” pollster Richard Czuba told Crain’s.

The telephone operator poll of 600 registered voters — conducted Nov. 14-19 — found 80 percent believe Michigan should be matching the tax incentives offered by other states in order to compete for jobs.

In the BLM survey, voters surveyed were told about Tennessee shelling out $900 million for Ford’s Blue Oval City electric vehicle and battery assembly complex that the Dearborn automakers plans to build near Memphis and employ 6,000 new workers.

They also were told about the $400 million that Kentucky taxpayers are spending to subsidize the construction of an EV battery manufacturing park for Ford and South Korean battery maker SK Innovation that promises to produce 5,000 new jobs.

Nearly 83 percent of voters said they would support direct cash payments to corporations that deliver on new job creation. Voters surveyed were asked about the $500 million in cash incentives Tennessee taxpayers are shelling out to Ford, as well as a 100 percent income tax credit in Indiana for new job creation and a $10,000-per-job payment Texas pays companies for new jobs.

The poll also found about 72 percent of voters support the Legislature using $500 million to $1 billion in federal stimulus funds from the American Recovery Plan to pay for acquiring and prepping so-called “megasites” for large-scale industrial use. Tennessee’s tax incentives include at least $250 million in site prep for 3,600-acre “mega campus” of EV plans Ford plans to build northeast of Memphis.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration has called for dedicating $100 million in stimulus funds for mega site prep, while Detroit Regional Partnership CEO Maureen Donohue Krauss has said that much is needed annually for a decade in order for Michigan to compete with southern states that have been in the land assemblage business for years.

Support for matching the tax incentives of southern states was strongest among voters who identify as leaning Democrat and strong Republicans. The partisan split of the voters surveyed was 37 percent Democrat, 37 percent Republican and 22 percent independents.

“When you tell voters what others states are doing … they wholeheartedly are saying, ‘Well, you better being willing to match that. At a minimum, you better be doing what they’re doing,'” Czuba said.

That may help some business groups like BLM, the Detroit Regional Chamber and the Michigan Manufacturers Association make a case to the Legislature that it’s time to re-arm the Michigan Economic Development Corp. for the incentives arms race with other states. Those groups were among more than 20 that announced the formation of a coalition called Winning Michigan Jobs to “work on a cohesive strategy to help Michigan win and create jobs.”

By a margin of four-to-one, voters said they support maintaining Michigan’s role as “the state that leads the automotive industry.”

But they’re not so confident that Michigan will continue to dominate the industry.

When asked if they “think Michigan will remain the center of the nation’s automobile industry or do you think there is a risk the automobile industry will shift to other parts of the country,” 63.5 percent believe the industry will shift elsewhere.

“I think there’s an urgency and recognition that Michigan struggles to be competitive,” BLM CEO Jeff Donofrio told Crain’s. “And we’ve got to be able to pivot and be flexible over time.”

When pollsters drilled down, they found there’s general resistance among voters to the state deciding which industries or businesses get taxpayer support and which do not.

When read a statement that “Michigan should not start picking winners and losers. We should just make 64.5% sure we have a good business climate and then businesses will want to locate here,” 64.5 percent of those surveyed agreed, according to the poll.

The poll also serves as a barometer for voter views on Michigan’s economic outlook.

Some 60 percent of voters surveyed said they don’t think Michigan is well-positioned to compete with other states in the race to build electric vehicles.

Nearly 65 percent of voters said Michigan is not a top 10 state in the nation, while 54 percent said Michigan is on the wrong track as a state.

One-in-three voters said their biggest economic worry is inflation and the rising cost of goods (32 percent). The next biggest worry (19 percent) revolved around labor shortages and people not returning to work during the pandemic, according to the poll.

The shock of Ford’s decision to make the largest manufacturing investment in its 118-year history has cast a spotlight on Michigan losing out on other EV battery plants.

General Motors Co. and LG Energy Solution are building two battery plants in Spring Hill, Tenn. and Lordstown, Ohio, and have plans to build two more. On Monday, Toyota Motor North America announced it would invest $1.3 billion to construct a lithium ion battery plant in North Carolina, Automotive News reported.

Michigan Economic Development Corp. CEO Quentin Messer Jr. has said the state is trying to compete for one of GM’s next battery plants. Last month, GM President Mark Reuss said “of course” Michigan is in the running for a battery plant and that a decision would be made within six months.

GM’s forthcoming decision on where to site its next battery plants has spurred some lawmakers into action.

Senate Republicans plan to propose an economic development spending bill later this week that will include funding for mega site preparation, said Sen. Ken Horn, chairman of the Senate Economic and Small Business Development Committee.

Horn, R-Frankenmuth, is the author of a pair of Senate bills that would create the Michigan Employment Opportunity Program, a new income tax-capturing incentive for businesses that create new jobs. The proposed MiEOP incentive would be capped at $300 million over five years for up to 40 companies.

The legislation will see action in the Senate by early January, Horn said.

“Things are moving so fast in the auto industry, mobility industry, electrification of vehicles,” Horn said Monday. “The time is now to do this.”

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