20 Years of Investing in Michigan

Courtney Overbey

Monday, April 15, 2019

April 2019 marks two decades of helping to transform Michigan's economy by building community, growing agriculture, connecting businesses, supporting entrepreneurs, strengthening international relationships, and driving the future of mobility.

Take a moment to recall what Michigan — and the world — was like 20 years ago; the Google search engine had just come on the scene and businesses were preparing for the millennium bug, expecting all technology and market operations to freeze on Jan. 1, 2000. Fast forward to 2019 and nearly everyone has a miniature computer in their pockets and what used to be “futuristic” technology — think self-driving cars and smart speakers — is increasingly commonplace today.

As technology evolved and industry needs shifted over the years, Michigan’s economy has no doubt had its share of changes. But throughout all the uncertainty, anticipation and possibility of these last 20 years, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) has carried out its mission, adjusting its sails to accommodate the changing economic winds and positioning Michigan as a national and global force to be reckoned with, in industries ranging from automotive and advanced manufacturing to agribusiness and technology. From the MEDC’s work to develop vibrant, resilient and lively communities throughout Michigan, to its efforts to attract and grow business investments, to promoting Michigan as a preeminent tourism destination — the past 20 years stand as a testament to the MEDC’s commitment to making the state a great place to live, work and play.

A great place to live…

Living in Michigan is a special experience; always within six miles of a body of water, having opportunities to enjoy all four seasons and two peninsulas filled with natural wonders to explore make Michigan stand out among its peers. The MEDC chases the feeling of wonder and pride that folks have when talking about what makes their communities unique, and works to recreate that throughout the state by investing in catalytic community development efforts. By supporting its local partners in building vibrant communities where people want to live and where businesses want to be, the MEDC helps create spaces that are inviting, engaging and inclusive. Through the MEDC’s Redevelopment Ready Communities program, it helps communities throughout the state develop a vision for the future — and put the foundational practices in place to get there — through a voluntary, no-cost certification designed to promote effective redevelopment strategies.

Since 2003, the MEDC has also applied the “Main Street Approach” focusing on economic vitality, design, organization and promotion efforts to help interested communities in revitalizing and preserving their traditional commercial district through the Michigan Main Street program. These communities are chosen through a competitive application process and can access a wealth of resources to help them build stronger communities through preservation-based economic development. In 2018, the city of Howell was the winner of the 2018 Great American Main Street Award, a national competition that recognizes exceptional Main Street communities every year. Thanks to the years of planning and dedication from state and local officials, funding partners and developers, this is one of the many communities helping highlight Michigan’s placemaking and community development efforts on the national stage.

The MEDC works to help support communities in developing their main streets and downtown corridors in part through business attraction efforts, and by tapping into the the most important resource inherent in every single community in Michigan: its people. Through the Public Spaces Community Places crowdfunding program, for example, community members are encouraged to get involved in the development of strategic projects in their communities and band together to be the change they wish to see.

Take the city of Portland, Michigan. In 2015, the town applied for a $50,000 matching grant through the PSCP program to build a gathering space for local residents to convene and host events. At the end of a dedicated fundraising and grassroots effort, a quarter of the town’s 4,000 people contributed to the effort, successfully funding the project. The final result was the Red Mill Pavilion, which today serves as not only a gathering spot for community events but is a crown jewel of the town.

A great place to work…

Regardless of how the economy has shifted in Michigan over the last 20 years, the MEDC has successfully adapted its programs and services to ensure as it continued growing Michigan’s economy by both attracting and retaining jobs.

While the creation of new jobs grabs the headlines, there have been times when keeping jobs here in the state was a top priority for the MEDC. During the Great Recession, one of the greatest strengths of the MEDC — and in turn, Michigan itself — was its ability to retain jobs when it was increasingly likely companies could choose to leave the state. Keeping companies rooted in Michigan during trying times set the groundwork for celebrating projects announced by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford and General Motors of investments in plants here in Michigan, largely focused around the development and production of electric and autonomous vehicles.

FCA announced plans in 2019 for a $1.6 billion update of the Mack Avenue Assembly Complex to convert the two plants into the future assembly site for next-generation Jeep® models, adding 3,850 new jobs to support production. Image courtesy of FCA.

In 2019, the MEDC offers a variety of services, from helping businesses access the capital they need, to its flagship Business Development Program that provides businesses the support they need to invest and grow here in Michigan. Since its creation in 2012, the Michigan Business Development Program alone has helped support the creation of more than 29,000 jobs and $7 billion in capital investment in the state.

Part of the reason for that growth is the state’s strong entrepreneurial environment. Michigan is known for world-class innovation in a range of industries, and its entrepreneurial spirit and tenacious work ethic make it a natural hub for innovation. The MEDC’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Team offers dedicated resources for high tech startups in four key technology areas of AgriBio, Life Sciences, Advanced Transportation and Advanced Manufacturing through the MTRAC program as well as support for a statewide network of SmartZones. These technology clusters are located throughout the state to promote resource collaborations between universities, industry, research organizations, government and other community institutions, helping to grow technology-based businesses and jobs. The MEDC is committed to providing entrepreneurs and startups with the support and resources needed for their ideas to take off.

Take Duo Security, for example. The cloud-based company began in Michigan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem with two full-time employees and has since become a trusted access provider protecting the world’s largest and fastest-growing companies while employing hundreds of workers. In 2016, the company decided to expand its Ann Arbor location when it received a $2.5 million grant from MEDC’s Michigan Strategic Fund, helping it pull from the strong talent pool available and the flourishing technology environment, and in turn creating 300 jobs for Michigan workers. Since then, it has caught the attention of Cisco, a Silicon Valley company that sought out and officially acquired Duo’s revolutionary technology in October 2018. By fostering Michigan’s robust entrepreneurial ecosystem, the MEDC has been proud to support the growth and evolution of companies like Duo over the past 20 years.

The MEDC’s impact stretches far beyond the U.S., though; it has had its sights set on going global, identifying international business development opportunities and making Michigan a global leader in industries like mobility, manufacturing and agriculture. The MEDC has a team dedicated to International Trade, hosting trade missions and creating networking opportunities for international companies to connect them with opportunities to bring their business here to Michigan. To date, the MEDC has assisted 789 companies to increase their export sales to 153 countries by $2.34 billion with Mexico, Canada and China being among the top-reported export markets. The numbers speak for themselves. Back in 2015, the world-class antenna manufacturer Challenger Communications partnered with the MEDC’s International Trade team seeking global expansion, and during its first year as a client of the MEDC International Trade program, Challenger’s export sales increased an astronomical 2,735 percent. This type of successful growth abroad means greater economic opportunities for the MEDC’s friends and neighbors right here in Michigan.

Ensuring Michigan is competitive on a global scale for business attraction goes hand-in-hand with making sure sites are ready for businesses to locate and grow in Michigan. With its new Site Readiness Program, MEDC offers support for communities across the state to be closer to “shovel ready” status for business attraction projects. The MEDC offers a full suite of resources for site selectors and companies looking to expand, including videos of featured sites to underscore the innovative approaches the MEDC takes to foster business creation and expansion in Michigan.

The MEDC’s efforts support projects like the 142-acre site in St. Johns, which was chosen in Fall 2018 as the location for a new dairy processing facility by Spartan Michigan, LLC, a joint venture between Glanbia plc, Dairy Farmers of America, Inc. and Select Milk Producers, Inc. When completed, the facility is expected to process more than 8-million pounds of milk per day and manufacture cheese and whey protein powder, making it among the largest dairy processing facilities in the nation. Thanks to support from the Michigan Strategic Fund and the MEDC, the project is expected to generate a total investment of $425 million and create up to 259 jobs, helping Mid-Michigan workers earn a strong paycheck and invigorating Michigan’s dairy industry.

Not only is the MEDC focused on attracting international companies to locate in Michigan, but it works on connecting businesses with opportunity on a national and global scale through matchmaking opportunities, too. Take Pure Michigan Business Connect (PMBC). This public-private initiative helps facilitate connections between local and global suppliers and purchasers with Michigan goods and services. By hosting matchmaking opportunities throughout the year like the Agriculture Summit and the Aerospace Summit, PMBC helps highlight our state’s diverse supplier base. The impact is undeniable. Since 2014, PMBC has facilitated more than $8 billion in new contracts between local, national and global purchasers — the equivalent of more than 40,000 jobs. PMBC has worked with more than 830 global corporations to facilitate more than 12,300 unique supplier and buyer meetings and cross 76 different industries. With services like PMBC, the MEDC is committed to ensuring the “Made in Michigan” standard is globally recognized and pursued.

While Michigan put the world on wheels more than 100 years ago, it has also played a prominent role in the defense of the nation since 1940. Today, the MEDC works with the Michigan Defense Center to facilitate connections between automotive and defense industries to protect and grow the two sectors from right here in Michigan. From groundbreaking automated and connected vehicle testing grounds, to housing the nation’s laboratory for developing advanced military ground vehicle technologies, to the highest concentration of engineering talent in the nation, Michigan is not only the Arsenal of Democracy, but also the Arsenal of Innovation.

Speaking of automotive history, it is impossible to look back on Michigan’s economic success and strength over the past 20 years without considering the auto industry’s impact on the state. Over the years, the MEDC has been committed to ensuring Michigan is not only the birthplace of the Big Three, but remains home to the industry giants, too. From the FCA announcement in early 2019 to supporting the award-winning Michigan Central Station Ford Detroit Redevelopment Project in 2018 as an innovation hub for the company, to supporting the Kettering University GM Mobility Research Center, the MEDC is ensuring Michigan continues driving mobility by leading the nation in the next generation of transportation. Between the GM Mobility Research Center, the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti and Mcity in Ann Arbor, Michigan’s collaboration and groundbreaking legislation are driving the state forward in autonomous and connected vehicle technology. Through PlanetM — the MEDC’s concierge service connecting businesses, start-ups and mobility industry players to the state’s extensive automotive ecosystem — Michigan continues to be synonymous as the mobility capital of the world.

That global leadership is on display through a number of Memorandums of Understanding signed by the state of Michigan with countries including the UK, the Netherlands, China and Australia as well as the Province of Ontario and the Austrian State of Styria. These partnerships position Michigan as an international convener of experiences and lessons that will accelerate the learnings needed to deploy complex technologies; develop an increased pool of qualified personnel to work on finding solutions to ensure the safety of autonomous vehicles; and create an increased awareness of potential development partnerships, supply chain assistance and testing capabilities between global automotive companies.

But Michigan is home to another Big Three, too; music, media arts and maker culture, culminating in efforts to foster creativity and innovation in Michigan through the MEDC’s Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA). In Michigan, the creative economy contributes nearly 89,000 jobs in more than 10,000 businesses, ultimately generating more than $4.09 billion in wages for Michiganders. Through competitive grant programs, MCACA encourages arts and culture organizations, cities and municipalities, and other nonprofit organizations to develop and facilitate an enriched environment of artistic, creative and cultural activity in Michigan.

A great place to play…

Here in Michigan, folks take pride pride in both working hard and playing hard. As the agency responsible not only for job creation and investment, but also for marketing Michigan’s opportunities for travel and tourism, the MEDC launched the treasured Pure Michigan campaign in 2006 to promote Michigan as a preeminent four-season tourism destination. While the campaign was initially introduced to regional markets, it has since expanded in scope and is now broadcast to a national audience as well as targeted international efforts. Just this past year, the campaign brought 6.4 million visitors to Michigan, who spent $2.5 billion in the state, as a direct result of the campaign.

Since its introduction, not only has the Pure Michigan campaign contributed to tourism in the state — but it has created a deep sense of pride for residents to call Michigan home. From the unspoiled nature, miles of freshwater coastline, Motown heritage, recreational opportunities and a one-of-a-kind Upper Peninsula, the Pure Michigan campaign has helped remind everyone that being from Michigan means being part of a network woven with proud traditions and a world-renown history.

While the MEDC’s programs and initiatives have evolved over time, one thing has remained consistent: a steadfast dedication to seeing Michigan’s people and places thrive. On behalf of the MEDC staff, thank you for joining us on this exhilarating and rewarding ride so far; we can’t wait to see what adventures and opportunities await us in the next 20 years and beyond.

Contact Us

To contact a business development specialist, click here or call 1.888.522.0103.