MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. -- Governor Gretchen Whitmer Thursday delivered keynote remarks at the Mackinac Policy Conference. Please see below for her remarks as prepared for delivery.
It is good to be back on the island. Hard to believe it’s been a year since we were here… but that’s because it hasn’t! I want to start by thanking conference chair Arn Tellum, Chamber CEO Sandy Baruah, and chamber leadership and staff for their hard work.
Let’s also recognize the people who show up before we get here and stay long after we leave—the chefs, servers, janitors, housekeeping, landscaping, desk staff—who make this all run smoothly. Since I rarely enter through the front door anymore, it is a beehive of activity in the kitchen. Let’s give the staff a hand.
My keynote last year focused on our shared challenges and getting things done. I mentioned the wise words of Bobby Kennedy, reminding us to “seek to understand with compassion and love” and remembered the great philosopher ted lasso’s call on all of us to “be curious, not judgmental.”
Behind me is this year’s conference theme. Clearly, we’re seeing the same things. The underlying challenge we face is our divide.
To move our state forward, we must heal that divide by sitting down at tables with people who disagree with us. We must put our collective success first and do the hard work of being uncomfortable because that is the way to get things done—side by side.
At our best, it’s what we all do. We’re Michiganders. We have heart and grit. We get up every day to take care of the people we love most. That instinct drives us. And when we center that desire to act, we get a lot done, including what I’ll be talking about today.
But we must also think beyond the year ahead or even the next 4 years. As we grapple with big questions about our divide and the—as you’ve put it—"fundamental tenets of American democracy,” it is hard not to think about our future. About Michigan, 2100.
Not to stress you out, but the year 2100 is only 4,000 weeks away.
Perspective is a good thing. And sometimes it’s hard to come by in this political environment. To me, probably like many of you, 1999 doesn’t feel like that long ago. I was a newly minted attorney and Seinfeld fanatic. No kids yet.
As we crossed into the new millennium there was a little unfounded concern about Y2K and a real sense of boundless possibility. We had just rounded out one of the most consequential centuries in American history. There were world wars, proxy wars, and a moon landing. Penicillin, refrigeration, and television. Movements for gender equality and civil rights.
And here in Michigan, we had a heck of story to tell. In the 20th century, Michigan became the manufacturing capital of the world with talent from across the globe. We flexed our industrial strength to help win World War II. And in the post-war era, we delivered a middle-class quality of life at a great cost of living to generations of families.
Obviously, that’s a simple retelling of a complicated story, but the point is that we got a whole lot done. Now, we’re nearly a quarter of the way through the 21st century. My daughters are adults and Nirvana is considered “classic rock.” A lot has changed over the last 22 years. And it is a reasonable time for us to start thinking beyond the next quarter, the next year, or the next decade.
The question we need to consider today is: what will be the Michigan story for this century?
What will our grandchildren revere us for? What will they curse us for? And if you’ll allow me to get a little existential: will we make them proud?
Today, let’s talk about how we can move towards 2100 with confidence by acting now to help Michigan thrive for generations. Let’s work together to make our kids proud and give our grandkids a bright future.
First, a recap of what we’ve done since we were here in September. Tough times call for tough people, and through everything the world has thrown at us, we’ve gotten a lot done.
Today, our economy is growing, we are open for business, and we continue to lead the way on everything from manufacturing to chips to sustainable development.
A week after the conference last year, I signed my third balanced, bipartisan budget to fix the Miller Road bridge and 99 other local bridges, put $500 million—the largest one-time deposit ever—into our rainy-day fund bringing it to an all-time high of nearly $1.5 billion, and made the largest investment ever in childcare, helping employees get back to work knowing their kids are safe and cared for.
We expanded our successful workforce development programs like Reconnect and Going Pro. People like Richard from Jackson, who had been laid off, went back to school to realize his dream of working in healthcare. He wrote to me because he was grateful to Reconnect for giving him the initiative he needed to start this new adventure. We asked him to send in another picture but he stuck with this one, and frankly—can’t blame him. Looking good, Richard!
In November, KLA—a Silicon Valley-based Fortune 500 semiconductor firm—opened their second global headquarters in Ann Arbor. 600 jobs. Bringing supply chain from China to Michigan. For months, we have faced the chip crisis head-on, advocating for passage of the federal CHIPS act which will create and protect hundreds of thousands of jobs. We should all urge DC to get this done as soon as possible.
In December, we cut personal property taxes for small business owners and enacted bipartisan economic development legislation—thanks in large part to the business community’s partnership. We armed Michigan with tools to fight for every dollar and job.
It’s paying off. In January, we competed against several other states and won a $7 billion investment from GM—the largest in their history—creating 4,000 jobs and retaining 1,000 more building batteries and electric vehicles.
On that day, I stood next to a legislative leader, who said: “the economic wellbeing of our state isn't a partisan matter." Another leader said that I was willing "to work with anyone from either side of the aisle to find a way to make this work.”
Both of those guys are right. And I appreciate their partnership!
In February, we forged a public-private partnership with ford and google to transform the Michigan Central Station in Detroit into a global hub for mobility innovation.
In March, I signed the bipartisan Building Michigan Together Plan, supercharging our work to fix roads, protect clean water, build affordable housing, expand high-speed internet, and improve parks, while supporting over 30,000 jobs.
I hope you all like orange—you’ll be seeing a lot of cones and barrels this summer.
Best of all, this plan improves people’s lives.
People like Mary from Detroit, a senior who wants the roads fixed so she can have a smooth, safe drive to church and travel more around the state.
Or Rebecca in Charlevoix who wants to buy a home in northern Michigan, but told me there is not enough attainable homes and that a lack of affordable housing is driving her peers away and worsening worker shortages.
And Linda in Holland whose granddaughter, a pre-med student at Wayne State, lived with her during the pandemic because she didn’t have internet access at home.
Also in March, I signed the 800th bipartisan bill to hit my desk.
In April, we landed a $1.7 billion expansion from LG Energy Solution creating 1,200 jobs in Holland building battery components for electric vehicles.
In May, we opened the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams at MSU and the Wacker Innovation center in Ann Arbor, cementing our status as a high-tech R&D hub.
And earlier today, we had more good news. Thanks to our economic development fund, we fought for and won a $2 billion investment from Ford creating 3,200 jobs at several facilities across southeast Michigan. Speaker Wentworth said it best during our panel a few hours ago: “Michigan wins big.”
I am so proud that we got this done. It is a testament to what we are capable of when we work together.
In the months ahead, let’s continue this spirit of collaboration. Our task is clear:
1) Finish our education budget by the end of the month so districts can get ready for the upcoming school year.
2) Deliver a balanced, bipartisan budget that invests in the kitchen-table issues. Ideally also by June 30, as required by law.
3) Deploy our remaining federal funds.
Three months ago, I put forward my budget proposal. Here are a few highlights (on slide).
We’re focused on building a strong, growing economy by lowering costs for working families, powering small businesses, and investing in every community.
But the core of my budget is top of mind for all parents here today—myself included—education. Every parent wants to help their children catch-up and get on track for long-term success. Every employer knows today’s students are tomorrow’s workforce. And every educator wants to help their students thrive. We all recognize that when our kids excel in school, Michigan succeeds.
As we head into the fall, I want to be clear: students need to be in school.
Last year, enrollment increased, and we must build on that trend. To do so, my education budget 1) improves every student’s in-class experience, 2) builds up school infrastructure, and 3) invests in our teachers.
1) Building up our kids with the highest per-student funding ever—without raising taxes. That means $9,135 for every student, in every district. It means tutoring and personalized learning with programs like MI Kids Back on Track to help our kids catch up and get ahead after a tough few years. It means new textbooks and more extracurriculars, AP, and honors classes. Let’s also hire hundreds more on-campus mental health professionals to help our kids grow into their best selves.
2) Building up our schools with a $1 billion investment in school infrastructure. The need for this is clear: just yesterday, Detroit students were sent home early because of high temperatures and a lack of adequate air-conditioning. Together, we can help schools build and improve facilities for kids to learn math, science, and technology. Improve air and water quality. And create good-paying construction jobs along the way.
And 3) building up our educators with bonuses and programs to boost recruitment and retention. It’s a tough time to work in school. Staff shortages, increased trauma, increased threats of violence, and learning loss make this job harder than ever. To encourage staff to stick with our kids, I propose bonuses, fellowships, and stipends to student teachers, and help districts hire and train 15,000 new teachers.
The last couple of years have been hard on us all, including our teachers, like Aaron from Detroit. Like a lot of teachers, Aaron had to ask for donations online to buy school supplies and lived with relatives to make ends meet. After two years, he quit.
Parents know that the person in the front of their kid’s classroom matters. Just like you fight to keep top talent, we must recruit and retain the best educators for every classroom to improve outcomes and better prepare kids for the future. Excellent educators are critical to achieve our long-term economic goals—from becoming a top 10 state for small business to shoring up our manufacturing strength.
And to that end, I want to thank Launch Michigan for informing our teacher recruitment and retention strategy. The MI Future Educator Fellowship was a brainchild of this cross-sector, bipartisan group. Showing that policymaking works best when we collaborate to solve our shared challenges.
Education is top of mind for us all, especially for our kids. Braelyn, a high-schooler from the UP, wrote to me about our schools. She wrote viscerally about underfunded schools and the awesome power of a great education.
She described schools with, “overcrowded classrooms, heating issues, and [a] lack of school supplies.” She reminds us that investing in education leads to higher graduation rates and wages in addition to “societal savings in lower crime rates [and] incarceration.”
The hard truth is that Braelyn is paying the cost of decades of political agendas and disinvestment in our schools. She reminds us, talent and promise reside in every county of Michigan and it’s our shared obligation to ensure opportunity does too. Let’s get it done and make her proud.
Now let’s talk about another opportunity to collaborate: entrepreneurship.
Our work on economic development has been successful. Since December, we landed big projects from GM, LG Energy Solution, and Ford. We must also ensure that aspiring entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes have reason to stay and grow in Michigan. In towns and cities across the state, small businesses are the anchors of their communities. And the data is clear: Michigan's entrepreneurs are fired up.
Despite two volatile, unpredictable years, hardworking entrepreneurs have shown relentless drive to succeed. Since I took office, over 420,000 businesses have formed in Michigan, including 312,000 since March 2020.
In 2021, an average of over 12,500 businesses were formed every month. That’s up 60% compared to 2018 and 77% compared to 2017! The trend continues into 2022, with an average of 11,000 businesses a month this year.
Let’s make sure our new small businesses succeed. Entrepreneurs need support from concept to cash flow. And then let’s fund bootcamps for aspiring and current business owners about how to scale up. Then offer them a grant to hit the ground running. Your expertise on how best to do this is encouraged and appreciated.
Together, let’s unleash the power of Michigan’s entrepreneurs to uplift urban, rural, and suburban communities and create more vibrant places where people want to live, visit, spend, and invest.
We can get this done. We’ve accomplished a lot together over the last couple of years.
Since I took office, we’ve grown our economy, created good-paying jobs, and lowered costs for families. Together we’ve focused on the fundamentals: jobs, roads, schools, water, and so much more.
All bipartisan. Without raising taxes a cent. Let me say that again—not a single cent. In fact, we cut taxes. We repealed the tampon tax and cut personal property taxes for small business owners. And I've proposed 2 more tax changes to put money in people’s pockets: repealing the retirement tax for our seniors and tripling the EITC for working families.
Divided government does not have to mean dysfunctional government. Our work is proof of what’s possible when we focus on our collective success.
Now, I want to look further ahead and talk about something I mentioned earlier: Michigan, 2100.
The story of Michigan’s last century is well known and often told: we put the world on wheels. We assembled the arsenal of democracy. We built the middle class. How did our predecessors do these big things? Can we live up to that legacy? Will we build a state worthy of our kids and grandkids?
We can and we must.
Today, there’s so much good work going on across Michigan. In factories where batteries are forged to laboratories where breakthroughs are made. In universities where the next generation is incubating ideas that will define our future. In classrooms where students are finding their voices and developing their passions. In the dreams of every hardworking Michigander.
Michigan has so much potential and promise. But we need century-defining goals to coalesce around and shoot for. Here’s what I’m thinking:
First, our shared prosperity.
In the 21st century, Michigan will electrify the world and become the manufacturing hub of the future. From batteries and life sciences to electric vehicles and software, Michigan can become the epicenter of innovation. From our biggest manufacturers to countless small and medium-sized firms, Michiganders will find ample opportunities in 2100 to apply their talents in good-paying, high-skill jobs.
Second, this beautiful place we call home.
We are the Great Lakes State. With that honor comes an awesome responsibility. In the 21st century, Michigan will go to the mat for our great lakes. We are home to 21% of the world’s fresh surface water and the envy of every other state. We will protect them and remain a bastion of bountiful natural resources especially as climate change continues impacting the global supply of clean drinking water.
Finally, our people.
Much of our 20th-century success was rooted in our ability to attract and retain families from across the country and around the world to bring their talents to Michigan. At our best, we are a beacon for people who want the basics: a good-paying job. Great schools. Clean air and water. A chance to get ahead and hope for the future.
In the 21st century, that must be our final, essential goal: create a great quality of life and maintain a good, middle-class cost of living.
That means building the best public schools to prepare our kids for the economy of the future and achieving our 60 by 30 goal to have 60% of Michiganders earn a postsecondary degree or skills certificate by 2030. In just over 3 years, we’ve gone from 45% to nearly 50%. In decades ahead, let’s go further—90 by 60 has a nice ring to it.
It also means replacing our lead service lines and ensuring every Michigander has high-speed internet. That means more of the things that define Michigan’s vibrant culture: parks, craft breweries, Carhartt’s continued domination of style, and high-profile global events from trade shows to sporting events that put the spotlight on our extraordinary state.
These are goals that transcend 1, 2, 3, or even 10 governors. They will be the result of decades of grit and determination.
That’s my vision. In the weeks and months ahead—heck in the next hour—you’ll hear a lot of other ideas. As always, I welcome honest conversations about our future.
But know this—achieving our goals—however lofty or ordinary—is predicated on competent leaders in the public sector who have the courage of their convictions and know how to get stuff done.
So, as we chase our collective success, we must also be a state where women have bodily autonomy and equal rights. Michigan must be a place that is welcoming and inclusive to the LGBTQ+ community, refugees, and people of color.
Because in Michigan, we know that “everybody in” is a better philosophy than “everyone on their own.”
Michigan needs to be a state that works for everyone, no matter what you look like, where you were born, how much money you’ve got in your pocket, or who you love.
And critically, we must build a Michigan that attracts talented young people. Heck I’m focused on talent retention in my own house! I have two smart daughters who will graduate from U of M and make decisions about where to build their lives—and I want the answer to be Michigan.
Let’s build a Michigan where the most innovative companies choose to invest. A Michigan defined by grit, where we come together to get things done. That’s the Michigan I want for my daughters and all our kids.
While other states go backwards, I want to move Michigan forward.
As you leave here think about Michigan, 2100. Think about what you want future generations to remember us for. Think about what you want Michigan to mean to your kids and grandkids.
It’s something I do often.
My mom died of a glioblastoma multiforme—brain cancer—when she was 59. On my 50th birthday last August, over my coffee, I made a list. I started with the things for which I was grateful, which quickly evolved into what I want to accomplish. Unsurprisingly, a lot of it revolved around my family.
As we talk about 2100, I know I won’t be here. But my girls might be. Maybe they’ll have kids who will be too.
As I look around at the world, I’m worried. I know many of you are too. Too many of us devote far too much of our attention to angertainment. Too many mimic divisive rhetoric to score cheap points or achieve short-term goals. Today, ideology too often prevails over ideas.
I don’t have time for that. And I sure as hell don’t want to live that way. I suspect you don’t either.
I want to solve problems. Grow our economy, create jobs, and lower costs. Shore up civil rights, safeguard workers’ rights, and protect human rights because we must show the world that Michigan is a safe, serious place where businesses should invest and more families should call home.
And frankly, I want to live a happy, productive life, like we all do. Constant bitterness, negativity, and despair are no way to live. I want to make my girls proud not only in what I do, but how I do it.
I know you agree. And that’s precisely why I'm hopeful about our future.
We can reject cynicism, pessimism, and fatalism that are all too pervasive today. We can solve problems together. We have an obligation to do so. Let’s keep forging ahead and ensure others experience the joy that comes with our collective success.
Together, let’s make Michigan the epicenter of innovation, protect our great lakes, and build a solid quality of life at a good cost of living. Underlying these goals is a simple motivation—to build a state worthy of our kids. To make Michigan home.
To close, I want to quote President Teddy Roosevelt who reminded us that, “the poorest way to face life is… with a sneer.”
Instead, he said we ought to be “in the arena… because there is no effort without error and shortcoming,” and he “who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
I have no doubt that Michigan’s future is bright, and I will work hard every day to make it so. To 2100 we go. Thank you.