LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday proposed spending more than $1.5 billion in federal pandemic rescue funding to help boost the business climate, redevelop polluted sites and take steps such as accelerating the development of electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
The proposals are the latest offered by the Democratic governor since Congress and President Joe Biden approved an unprecedented $6.5 billion in discretionary aid for the state, half of which can be allocated now. She and the Republican-led Legislature have not allotted any of the funds. Some could be negotiated as they work to finalize the next state budget before October, though much of it may not be approved until later.
Under Whitmer’s plan, about $700 million would be used to redevelop brownfield properties, rehabilitate vacant buildings, prepare sites for business development, create more energy-efficient homes and bolster regional economic resiliency plans. Roughly $350 million would go toward fostering a business environment that the governor said would be more conducive to high-tech, high-growth startups, preparing manufacturers for opportunities in emergency industries, speeding up charging infrastructure for electric cars and expanding an internship program for science, technology, engineering and math students.
An additional $456 million would boost the Going PRO program — which gives employers money to help train current and newly hired workers — help people who are almost finished with school or whose classes were affected by the coronavirus outbreak, expand apprenticeships and assist released inmates transition to jobs.
Whitmer said she is proud of the state’s economic turnaround and fiscal picture more than a year into the pandemic but pointed to challenges including not enough people to fill jobs, a lack of necessary skills, a lagging entrepreneurial sector and a shortage of affordable housing. The unemployment rate is lower than the national average, but the labor force participation rate is low.
“We are in a strong position to emerge from this once-in-in-a-lifetime pandemic and usher in a truly new era of prosperity and opportunity here in Michigan,” she said during a news conference at Lansing’s Rotary Park. “But that prosperity is only possible if we meet the moment and address the big, preexisting challenges exacerbated by COVID and we do it together.”
Whitmer said she will further detail her economic proposal in coming weeks. Altogether, it would total $2.1 billion when factoring in previously announced or updated facets such as expanding tuition-free programs for adults ages 25 and older and frontline workers, providing grants and loans to small businesses and temporarily helping businesses pay $15 an hour.
Among those joining the governor was Jared Fleischer, vice president of government affairs for the Rock Family of Companies, which includes Detroit-based Rocket Mortgage. He said COVID-19 has changed the economy — accelerating automation and artificial intelligence, reshaping downtowns that have smaller tax bases and fewer workers due to remote or hybrid work, and positioning Michigan to make advances in shipping and logistics.
“We could not stand in stronger support. We could not believe that the investments that are being announced are more critical to our state, our future prosperity,” Fleischer said.