Michigan Dems, GOP deserve credit for working together under tough circumstances

by Stanley “Skip” Pruss

Published in the Detroit Free Press, Sunday, December 19, 2010

Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the Michigan Legislature have faced considerable criticism from a public unhappy with government and its leaders. And last month’s election clearly expressed dissatisfaction with current office holders, particularly Democrats.

But there is a case to be made for the state’s beleaguered political leadership. A fair assessment of the last eight years suggests Michigan experienced an unfortunate confluence of events that were largely beyond government’s control. More to the point, a compelling argument can be made that much was accomplished under the most adverse circumstances.

Although many observers have pinned blame on the inability of Democrats and Republicans to come together to address core problems, the record is replete with bipartisan agreement and compromise culminating in important accomplishments.

For the first time in decades, serious efforts have been undertaken to diversify Michigan’s economy. In 2010 and 2011, more than $10 billion dollars in new investment will be creating vibrant, growing sectors in advanced energy storage systems, solar and wind energy, and energy efficiency technologies.

Michigan is well on its way to becoming the lithium ion automotive battery capital of the world, with 17 groundbreakings for new advanced manufacturing infrastructure. Michigan ranks fourth in the nation in solar jobs, with Dow, Dow Corning and Hemlock Semiconductor anchoring a robust solar industry in the Saginaw Bay area. And Michigan now has more than 100 companies manufacturing wind turbine components.

This transformation didn’t occur on its own. In fact, it couldn’t have happened at all without active cooperation between Republicans and Democrats. The Legislature enacted landmark energy legislation, creating tax incentives and designing new financial tools to jump-start Michigan’s diversification efforts.

These bipartisan initiatives qualified Michigan companies and start-ups to receive significant federal financial support from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Michigan companies received $1.36 billion of a total of $2.4 billion available for investment in advanced energy storage systems alone.

Granholm and legislative leaders from both parties engaged Washington in supporting our auto industry, strongly advocating for the federal assistance that enabled and accelerated the industry’s recovery.

Only a few years ago, Michigan’s auto industry could not turn a profit when producing 16 million vehicles per year. Today the industry is profitable at 11 million units and has once again captured the lead in innovation.

Now, Michigan’s clean energy technology companies will continue to hold great promise for aiding Michigan’s turnaround. The entrepreneurial hopes of scores of clean technology CEOs in Michigan are hinged on capitalizing on the opportunities in the new clean energy economy.

Their ambition should be Michigan’s ambition: to become leaders in producing the highest quality, most cost effective, clean economy technologies serving regional, national and international markets.

Fully capturing this opportunity requires active leadership. Gov.-elect Rick Snyder can provide that leadership and build on the accomplishments of the last eight years.

He has already demonstrated bipartisan leadership through his appointments and actions. As a successful businessman and technologist, he understands that even during times demanding fiscal constraint, government can help build strategic alliances, nourish and sustain crosscutting collaborations, and optimize the assets that give Michigan an edge.

Although many problems remain, let’s give credit when credit is due. And let us not forget that transformational opportunities cannot be realized without bipartisan cooperation.