Building a Championship Economy: A Conversation with Quentin L. Messer Jr.

Otie McKinley

Friday, January 28, 2022

We recently caught up with MEDC CEO Quentin Messer, Jr. to discuss the long-term impact of transformational projects like General Motors’ historic investment in Michigan, and how new opportunities on the horizon will help to build a ‘Championship Economy’ for Michigan.

With the Michigan Legislature’s economic development bills written into law to cap off a year of resurgence at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, 2022 has already brought to life the promise of possibility for Michigan, thanks to the grit, tenacity and hard work that defines us as Michiganders. During a conversation with Media and Communications Manager Otie McKinley, MEDC CEO Quentin Messer, Jr. shares how Team Michigan’s ongoing efforts will continue bringing tremendous growth to our 10 million-plus friends and neighbors throughout the state in 2022 and beyond.

A championship economy requires a winning team

Otie McKinley: You brought to the team this goal of building a championship economy for Michigan. Can you share what your vision of a championship economy here in Michigan might look like?

Quentin L. Messer Jr.: When we talk about championship economy, it’s centered on our core belief that economic development only matters to the extent that it helps people, that it translates in the lives of Michiganders, whether they be up north in the U.P., West Michigan, Southeastern Michigan, Central Michigan or anywhere in between. So building a championship economy means simply that we provide regionally relevant opportunities to accelerate upward economic mobility. We want to put more money in the pockets of Michiganders, and we want Michiganders to realize that their economic dreams and entrepreneurial opportunities are possible right here in Michigan.

Attracting and retaining transformational projects has a positive impact on the entire state

McKinley: In December of 2021, the Michigan legislature passed a package of bills to create programs that will help attract and retain transformational projects here in Michigan. And earlier this week, the MSF approved the first project to use some of the SOAR funding. What does an investment like the one General Motors recently announced do for the state? What does it mean for Michiganders in every corner of the state?

Messer Jr.: I’m incredibly grateful to General Motors for this vote of confidence in Michigan. And when we think of what it takes to make a great sports team, or a great program, you need to have that signature win; you need to begin to prove not only to yourself, but to the competition, that you're serious and you're viable, and what GM's announcement was basically saying, “Don't sleep on Michigan”. We're not going just sit idly by and not be aggressive in competing for the future of American, or even international mobility, for that matter. We want a shot and we will earn the business. That's what happened with General Motors.

We know statewide one out of five Michiganders are employed in the automotive industry. We know that for every job added in the automotive industry, that represents about 3.5 people, population-growth wise. We know about the incredibly rich supplier network – tier one, tier two, tier three suppliers – not only just in Southeast Michigan, but up north in the U.P., and in Southwest Michigan. There is a reason why states and provinces are competing for these battery mandates. They know what we have long known, that the supply chain and value chain in passenger vehicle mobility is second to none. There are very few industries that have that type of supply chain, with the exception of sectors like forestry and semiconductor manufacturing.

But when you think of what having that plant is going to mean for the Lansing area, what it’s going to mean in Oakland County and Orion Township. It means that there are going to be restaurants who have been hard-hit because of what has happened with a pandemic – they're now going to have men and women who are going to have lunch there, celebrate retirements, celebrate catching the biggest fish, winning fantasy football tournaments and also celebrating their family life events. That's what that means. It means dry cleaners, grocery stores, entertainment venues having an even larger customer base, pumping more capital into their local economies, creating positive impacts on the surrounding businesses and communities.

Working together to capitalize on a historic opportunity for economic growth

McKinley: What was your impression of your first State of the State that you've heard here in Michigan, and Governor Whitmer’s focus on continuing to build upon Michigan's healthy economy?

Messer Jr.: I thought it was an inspiring, empathetic, focused and practical state of this State. Let's pull back and realize what brought us success with the legislation you mentioned, with the SOAR fund and the GM announcement. We’ve proven that when we come together as Michiganders, there's nothing we can't do. There is no state of province in the world that can compete against us. And as the governor said, “Let's identify those areas in which we can agree.” It’s economic development. We all want to win and secure the kitchen table issues we all share for the future of our friends and neighbors. We began to really understand the need to get money in the hands of families.

We also understood that we've all gone through this collective experience. This traumatic experience of the pandemic, now endemic time we have lived through, during which we've lost too many people.

Now, we need to come together and figure out, “what are those non-skills base work?” I know, it's a bipartisan, Republican, Democrat, Independent, no-party, comes together realize, “what's the number one asset in Michigan?” It's not the water, and that's tremendous. It's not our scenic beauty. It's the people. And we have to come together and bring all of government along with the private sector, along with philanthropic, along with higher-ed at the four-, two-year and K-12 levels, to make sure that not only are today's Michigan residents doing well, but our children, our grandchildren, our nieces, our nephews, our cousins, as well as our elders.

And so, work remains to be done. I think the governor was very sober minded about that. She’s prepared to continue to roll up her sleeves, and we’re prepared at MEDC to support her as well as the legislature and our local and regional partners, to make sure that Michiganders have the best economic opportunities.

Looking forward to 2022

McKinley: What does 2022 look like? What does the MEDC, what does Michigan, what do Michiganders have to look forward to in 2022?

Messer Jr.: I am incredibly bullish on our prospects. But I think by being bullish, we also have to understand that there's still too much pain, too much suffering. We understand that too many people are dealing with the consequences of the pandemic and the endemic. We must continue to get to work on that. I think the legislative leaders talked about that on both sides of the aisle, whether it was Speaker Wentworth or Senate Majority Leader Shirkey at the GM announcement.

We've got to always figure out how to do what Michiganders have always done, which is be problem solvers. Be the most innovative problem solvers we possibly can be. And those problems that we have to address, those opportunities, are making sure that our environment from a business perspective remains top shelf. We can't be complacent. We've got to go out and convince and earn future business. We need to make sure that we are competitive for future opportunities with Ford, Stellantis, Toyota, you name it. We have to also make sure that we support agribusiness. I'm very encouraged by the announcement last year of the Office of Rural Development within MDARD. And I look forward to working with Director McDowell and other members of his team with whoever is appointed to that important role.

At the end of the day, we need to make sure that there is no wrong door when it comes to working with MEDC as a part of state government. When our friends and neighbors have challenges, whether it's identifying talent or identifying technical assistance and other things for small business, we as “Team Michigan” can and will provide them with solutions in a timely way. And internally within MEDC, we need to make sure that we continue to make sure that we have the best possible culture of teamwork, collaboration and risk taking that we possibly can in order to be innovative. People – our fellow Michiganders – deserve nothing less than us constantly pushing the needle, pushing the canvas of our imagination to think more about and expand the limits of that which is possible.

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