If there is one positive thing that can be attributed to Michiganders, it’s that they are perennially hopeful.
I noticed this when I moved to Michigan in the early 1980s. Coleman Young was the mayor of Detroit back then, and he was full of promises of a “new” Detroit. I believed the Pied Piper of Southeastern Michigan, just as many people did. Fast forward twenty-some years and we have a new Detroit and a new Michigan, all right. Hard to believe, but it’s somehow worse than the 1983 version.
At one time, there were the glory days. Mix a rich history of explorers, the ingenuity of Henry Ford and others, scenic landscapes, bountiful harvests, four of the five Great Lakes, and you have a state grand enough to merit visiting. At least the Pure Michigan commercials (ones employing ex-Michigander Tim Allen and costing millions of dollars) lead the viewer down that garden path. Of course, there’s the other side, as told by Chris Hansen in a recent televised report (which many derided as being too harsh but I thought was accurate). Visiting Michigan and being trapped here are two different levels of consciousness.
Of course, I am a cynic. This state, while pretty and promising in some regards, has been on an unsustainable course for decades. It wasn’t readily apparent at first, but here on Main Street, the downward slide has been chipping away at a once healthy economy since 2001.
When times were flush, the autoworkers union, the teachers' union, and other government and non-government unions contracted healthy benefits packages. Good for them, except Michigan is now Greece, with entitlements eating away at the budget, a shrinking tax base, and little manufacturing left. Motown left for Los Angeles. The auto companies left first for states with lower overhead and friendlier tax structures, then for countries with cheap labor.
And the people didn’t see it coming? The government? I did. Even the eggheads had that figured out, although I think they ball-parked on the low side.
Our state government, however, does an excellent job with regard to PR as witnessed here, and an even better job of selective capitalism. Newscasts around here are extremely rosy. When “good news” of job growth is touted on the local airwaves and in the papers, I don’t embrace the parade and the ticker tape; I am skeptical. A few years ago, Governor Granholm brought out the promise of “green” jobs. I’ve been asking the question for years. “Do you have a green job? Do you have a green job?” So far I’ve yet to meet anyone with a green job. I opened a recent copy of the Detroit News where unhappy men who paid good money for green job training cannot find a job – green or otherwise – to save their souls.
There was a big hoop-de-do over Governor Granholm and Google (supposedly) bringing 1,000 jobs to Ann Arbor. I was always skeptical about the Google deal. If I had an opportunity to work for Google in Silicon Valley or Google in Ann Arbor, I know which facility I would choose. The only reason Google came here was because of significant tax incentives (20 years’ worth and like Google needs money?), free parking spaces, and God only knows what else. The actual employment at Google Ann Arbor is around 225.
Then there was the plum deal given to Hollywood movie producers who brought their movies to the Mitten. With a promise of receiving a rebate of up to 42%, who wouldn’t come to Michigan? While I wouldn’t fault anyone for taking advantage of any tax break (not even the rich and famous in LaLa Land), my question has been, what is this costing us? No one knows.
We own a small business, service related and one that is not directly part of the auto industry. Our customers are of the one-time variety – once they get what they came for, they are on the road and out of here. It all makes sense that our business is declining. If a family has no disposable income, they won’t use our service. We are the trickle down. We pay our debts and make our payroll, but we can't afford improvements. After witnessing nine years of steady negative numbers, due to residents moving away, job loss, and high unemployment, we are quite literally hanging by our fingernails waiting for the next ax to fall.
In my Internet meanderings today, I came upon a University of Michigan forecast of our state. It wasn't just rosy, the good news was in full bloom. Supposedly, 2011 will be the turnaround year.
I've come to view any promise or hope of change as fodder to keep the people believing in miracles while they are suffering. It's easy to do with a state full of hopeful people.
So excuse me if I raise an eyebrow at the latest promise made. I'm just the skeptic on Main Street.Powered by Sidelines