Prepare to Vote: Economic Development and the Candidates for Governor

Would Michigan’s next governor support generous tax inccentives for businesses?


Are you MOST interested in how the gubernatorial candidates would approach economic policies for Michigan?  Does what candidates say about how they would approach tax incentives help determine your vote in the August primary and November general elections? 
WDET and our partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative recently interviewed most of the Republican and Democratic candidates for governor of Michigan and asked them about those issues. The questions included one from audience member John who asked, ” Do you believe that ‘economic development’ deals with tax credits, incentives, etc. are necessary and useful for Michigan’s communities?”
Scroll down for videos and transcripts.

Other WDET Conversations and Reporting about Economic Development:

What Does Train Station Transformation Say About Detroit’s Resurgence?
Detroit Businesses Discuss Whether The Region Can Be Competitive, Attract Talent
Was the First Year of Detroit’s Community Benefits Ordinance Successful?

The DJC reporters asked about policies and platforms on economic development and tax policy. Here’s how the candidates answered:

Democratic Candidates

Abdul El-Sayed

Abdul El-Sayed said he would revisit the role and operation of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, including its distribution of incentives to corporations. “MEDC is, in effect, a vehicle by which politicians who have taken oodles of corporate money, paid back their commitments. And they pay back their commitments in huge subsidies that leave many of our corporations subsidized by state government,” El-Sayed said. “So it’s crazy to me that we keep making these decisions as a state. The only way we create jobs — and let me be clear about this — the only thing that creates jobs are people who have great ideas with the capacity to turn those ideas into commerce because they can move themselves, their ideas and their goods and services around.”

Read El-Sayed’s Full Answer

Shri Thanedar

Shri Thanedar said tax incentives, for the most part, have not worked and he would minimize them being given to big corporations. “For the most part, giving tax breaks and tax incentives for businesses to come and move to Michigan has not added net jobs. If you look at the business disclosures and when businesses move out, jobs get outsourced, automation comes in, robotics come in,” he said. “I believe that the key to economic prosperity is through improving our education, giving the skillsets Michiganders need to be ready for tomorrow’s jobs.”

Read Thanedar’s Full Answer

Gretchen Whitmer

Gretchen Whitmer called for greater transparency in how the MEDC operates while recognizing a role for the agency but also questioning whether its current one is appropriate. “It’s important for states to have economic development toolboxes. However, in the use of those, they have to have real guidance. They have to be promoting some sort of an important public purpose,” she said. “Whether it is creating investment in something that we value, like Brownfield redevelopment or historic building renovation or it is an important public purpose like using development in neighborhoods that desperately need economic activity.”

Read Whitmer’s Full Answer

Republican Candidates

Brian Calley

Brian Calley said tax incentives should not be a “go-to strategy,” but they can be appropriate. “You have to have a good environment across the board to attract in new investment and growth among your current businesses, and for startups to be successful in your state. That is the baseline,” he said. “Once you have accomplished that, the idea for doing incentives for game-changer deals that create more opportunity for everybody, then the bar needs to be very high. The structure of those needs to be such that the state cannot lose. In other words, you pay after the fact.”

Read Calley’s Full Answer

Patrick Colbeck

Patrick Colbeck said opposes tax incentives and called it “the most frustrating policy area” during his time in the legislature and criticized current policy. “I believe that the best approach to economic development is broad base economic development,” he said. “If you want to turn (businesses) around and get them into a job growth mode, the best way to do it is lower the total cost of business operations. And you can do that by lowering the cost of government, which means eliminating state personal income tax. You can do it by lowering the cost of healthcare.”

Read Colbeck’s Full Answer

Jim Hines

Jim Hines said incentives should not be focused on low numbers of large corporations. “There are many scenarios where we’ve given millions of dollars to a company, and they haven’t been a winner. They’ve been a loser,” he said. “I would say that we should be spreading those dollars out to all businesses. Rather than picking one business and give them a billion dollars, spread that out to other businesses to help them thrive and grow.”

Read Hines’s Full Answer

Bill schuette

Bill Schuette declined the Detroit Journalism Cooperative’s request for a video interview, citing scheduling interviews. Click HERE to learn more about him and WDET’s coverage of his campaign. 

Other Issues

Find out what the 2018 Michigan gubernatorial candidates think about transit, transparency, marijuana, auto insurance and redistricting.



  • Sandra Svoboda
    Recovering Bankruptcy Reporter/Blogger looking forward to chronicling regional revitalization on-air, digitally and through community engagement.