By Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm
On Monday I'll be paying a return visit to Greenville, a small town about 25 miles northeast of Grand Rapids. Seven years ago, an event changed Greenville forever - and also set in motion my administration's plan for building a new Michigan economy.
Since 1892, Greenville had been known as the refrigerator capital of the world. Generations of Greenville residents worked in factories assembling refrigerators for companies like Gibson, White Consolidated, Frigidaire and Electrolux. While the different companies may have come and gone, the work didn't.
That all changed early in my first term as governor. We received word that Electrolux was going to close its Greenville plant and move to Mexico. Lost would be 2,700 jobs - devastating to a community of about 8,000 people.
My administration acted quickly to convince Electrolux to stay.Working with the Greenville community and the UAW, we offered Electrolux an incentive package that was unprecedented. It included tax abatements, lower labor costs and other assistance.
Electrolux thanked us for our proposal, but said nothing could change its mind.Why?Because in Mexico, Electrolux could pay wages of $1.57 an hour.
Greenville proved to be the canary in the coal mine, a warning of what was about to happen to other traditional manufacturing jobs throughout Michigan. The world had changed, and we needed to change, too.
In response, we developed a plan for a new Michigan economy.To create jobs, we needed to diversify. So we targeted six economic sectors for growth: clean energy, advanced manufacturing, life sciences, homeland security and defense, the film industry and tourism. And to train workers like those in Greenville for new jobs in these sectors, we created No Worker Left Behind, a program that's now training workers at quadruple the national rate.
We also began building partnerships between government, business and local communities that would bring new investment and create jobs.Such a partnership helped to bring United Solar Ovonic, a manufacturer of solar panels, to Greenville three years ago.
Now 300 people work at United Solar's two plants in Greenville with hopes the workforce will grow to about 800. Established Greenville companies like Clarion Technologies have expanded into new product lines, and even some new companies like Zero One, an office chair manufacturer, have come to town.
Greenville hasn't yet replaced all of the lost Electrolux jobs, but it's moving in the right direction.And so is Michigan. Thanks to our economic diversification and job training initiatives, we're laying the foundation for a new Michigan economy.
The above content reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the policies of the National Governors Association.