A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

As we read in Ecclesiastes, "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." Based on recent examples, this also applies to politicians’ press releases about government "economic development" programs and projects.

Reviewing past and recent examples from both the Granholm and Snyder administrations is also a reminder that for the bipartisan political class, "economic development" appears to mean little more than a long-running and tiresome public relations campaign that perpetually recycles the same old routines. One of them goes like this:

The administration announces a top official will visit some far-off locale to establish business relationships leading to new jobs for Michigan. Said official's return is accompanied by a breathless press release and possibly a press conference at which "promising new opportunities" are announced. A dutiful press corps repeats the boasts as if they represented something real and newsworthy, and a long-suffering electorate is expected to feel gratitude for such wise and effective leadership.

Too cynical? Here are some examples from the current and previous administrations. Judge for yourself:

April 8, 2013: "Calley leads delegation to strengthen Michigan business ties to Netherlands." The press release quotes Lt. Gov. Calley: "We will be delivering the message that Michigan is more business-friendly than ever and the best state in the North American market to compete and grow."

June 14, 2013: "Snyder leads delegation to enhance Michigan’s business ties with Israel." This one reminds readers of previous missions to Asia, Europe and Canada, and has the exact same words coming from Gov. Snyder's lips as the previous example with Lt. Gov. Calley saying: "We will be delivering the message that Michigan is more business-friendly than ever and the best state in the North American market in which to compete and grow."

If the press releases are cut and paste jobs, so are the trips themselves. Politician X visits foreign country Y, politician X claims new investment promises that will generate jobs and a brighter future, politician X puffs and postures. Rinse and repeat.

And as mentioned, it's all bipartisan — here are some examples from the previous Democratic administration:

April 16, 2008: "Granholm Traveling to Israel, Kuwait to Bring New Investment, Jobs Back to Michigan." This one boasted of how many foreigners had decided to invest in Michigan thanks to earlier visits by Gov. Granholm to Germany, Sweden, Austria and Japan. "This mission will allow us to continue our concerted efforts to showcase our state as a growing high-tech hot spot and the best place in North America for international companies to do business."

November 23, 2009: "Lt. Governor Cherry Concludes Overseas Investment Mission." Readers are told the mission secured promises from Israeli firms "to start water technology pilot projects" that would be "another step toward establishing Michigan as the North American leader in water technology." (Update: The two pilot projects referenced in this press release have yet to materialize.)

The truth is, there's something demeaning to taxpayers about the whole tired spectacle. If Michigan had been doing the good-government basics of keeping taxes and spending low, reining in the regulatory regime, establishing a favorable labor climate and protecting property rights, this state would be such an overwhelming economic powerhouse that all those foreign investors would be coming here, eager to learn and invest without any political bribes or cajoling.

The reality underlying the whole government "economic development" public relations machine is that it's an admission of failure.

In fairness, last year's passage of a right-to-work law, the previous year's reform of the primary state business tax, and a good number of other recent reforms, show that recently state government has been seriously working to get the basics right, but there's plenty left to be done without wasting resources on inconsequential economic political development PR programs.

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