Recession What?

These days it’s hard to stay up on the news without being subjected to talk of recession this and recession that. Now, there’s no arguing that the U.S. economy has fallen on trying times, but it’s nice to temper the bad with the good for some perspective. So in the spirit of optimism, I thought it would be a refreshing change of pace to veer away from talk of our “doomed” economy and highlight two recent major investment projects that promise to bring thousands of jobs to those in need.

Well-known for its troubled economy, Michigan has been working hard over the past few years to breathe life into a fresh new economy, one that is much less dependent on its automotive roots and more focused on high-tech and life sciences companies. Progressive incentive programs such as the 21st Century Jobs Fund have been helping with the transition.

In April, Michigan residents had much reason to rejoice when the state scored one of the largest non-automotive deals in Michigan’s history—at a time when the state’s unemployment rate is the highest in the nation at 7.2%. Thanks to a $330 million investment by life sciences company MPI Research Inc., Michigan stands to gain 3,300 new direct jobs and an additional 3,300 indirect jobs over the next 15 years. The company, which provides comprehensive pre-clinical research and development services, plans to more than double its current one-million-square-foot facility in Mattawan, MI, as well as launch new operations in Kalamazoo, MI at two closed Pfizer facilities in downtown Kalamazoo that Pfizer is donating to the city. Assistance provided by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) helped convince the company to choose Michigan over competing sites in the U.S. and China.

Based on the MEDC’s recommendation, the Michigan Economic Growth Authority board approved a state tax credit valued at $86 million over 15 years for MPI. The MEDC is also recommending the downtown Kalamazoo site receive designation as a tax-free Renaissance Zone and that a $2 million grant previously awarded to Western Michigan University be used instead for redevelopment activities at the Kalamazoo site. Through the transportation economic development fund, the Michigan Department of Transportation will chip in and provide funding for improvements at or near the I-94 interchange that are necessary to accommodate the traffic generated by MPI’s expansion. In addition, local match requirements will be provided by the village of Mattawan. The city of Kalamazoo is also lending a helping hand by way of $150,000 toward environmental due diligence and infrastructure analysis.

The MPI Research expansion is one of five economic development projects the governor announced in April. In all, they are expected to create and retain a total of 9,013 Michigan jobs.

Meanwhile, down south, the Tar Heel State will soon see 900 new, high-paying jobs as a result of GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s recent investment promise. The company, which could receive more than $25 million in state incentives for new job creation, plans to invest $704 million to add manufacturing, training, simulation, and testing facilities at its 1,300-acre campus in New Hanover County, NC, near Wilmington. Part of the expansion could also include a commercial uranium enrichment facility. A joint venture of General Electric and Hitachi, GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy already employs more than 2,000 people in the county.

While wages for all the new jobs will vary, the overall average wage will be about $85,000 a year not including benefits–more than double the New Hanover County average of $33,226.

Unfortunately, these new jobs won’t fix skyrocketing gas and food costs, but it is success stories such as these that will hopefully pave the way to brighter economic times for the United States. These stories also reinforce the need for states, and the nation as a whole, to focus economic development energies (and monies) on transitioning to a primarily knowledge-based economy to help our great nation become great again.