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Old Michigan revived

Daniel Howes
Detroit News

You’d think eight years of economic growth declining unemployment … and the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history would be the makings of a “new” Michigan. You know, one unhitched from its contentious, anti-business past.

You’d be wrong, no matter what Republicans and the Detroit revival crowd say. From the Democratic nominee for governor and the Detroit City Council to labor unions and neighborhood group’s markers of Old Detroit are resurfacing.

How? With a time-honored demand in this city: by requiring business to pay more to do business in a town starving for it. But there’s one problem: Detroit’s economic reinvention is anything but guaranteed.

Surprising? Hardly. This is the town that practically invented entitlement. But it’s also the town benefiting from the ninth year and counting of a national economic expansion from retooled automakers making more money than any time in 50 years from stock markets hitting record highs to statewide unemployment near record lows.

A lot of people are making a lot of money in this economy. Any wonder, then, that politicians, labor unions and neighborhood activists are clamoring for more? Not at all.

But the collective backlash to the GOP-Business status quo emerging this election season means there’s still a lot of old Michigan in its newer version. Rightly or not, what all of this signal to outsiders is that this corner of the industrial heartland pretty much remains the same as it ever was.

The Democratic nominee for governor, Gretchen Whitmer, is polling ahead of Republican Bill Schuette. She pledges to repeal Michigan’s right-to-work law which would deliver a stinging rebuke to the GOP and signal labor’s return to the highest levels of state policy making.

Detroit City Council’s president pro tem, Mary Sheffield, is pushing a package of what she calls “People’s Bills.” She proposes to set water rates according to income, not usage to reduce parking fines and reinstate a 10-day grace period when fines are halved to reduce the investment threshold requiring businesses to agree to so-called “Community Benefits Agreements.”

City Council rejected the proposed construction of a $170 million second tower for the Crowne Plaza Hotel downtown. One reason: the owner’s refusal to declare neutrality in the employees’ effort to organize a union.

A Corktown Advisory Council issued a series of demands for Ford Motor Company tied to its redevelopment of the old Michigan Central Depot – vacant and crumbling for 30 years. In exchange for $104 million in city breaks sought by Ford, the council wants millions in invested in neighborhood funds, including subsidies for property tax payments and home repair. And Ford last week mostly delivered.

And a dispute between union road builders and the contractors employing them halted construction on I-696 and I-75 this week. They’re headed back to work after the intervention of Governor Rick Snyder, but at what cost?

Capital goes where it’s invited and stays where it’s welcome. Now’s not the time to reverse the trend.

I’m Daniel Howes of The Detroit News.

Daniel Howes is a columnist at The Detroit News. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

Daniel Howes is columnist and associate business editor of The Detroit News. A former European correspondent for The News, he has reported from nearly 25 countries on three continents and in the Middle East. Before heading to Europe in 1999, Howes was senior automotive writer and a business projects writer. He is a frequent contributor to NewsTalk 760-WJR in Detroit and a weekly contributor to Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor.
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