Gretchen Whitmer’s Michigan: Red tape and orange barrels

Michigan can’t fix every problem, but it can control the controllable, starting here

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced in May she is forming the Growing Together Michigan Council to address the state’s population shedding. Michigan was in No. 4 in the nation in 2022 for the most outbound moves. The problems causing population loss are not a mystery or hard to figure out. We certainly do not need a council to fix it. The issue is that Whitmer’s welcome sign reads, “Move to Michigan - where the only color seen more than orange barrels is red tape.”

While die-hard Michiganders brag about the beauty of our state, it cannot compete with states that offer milder climates and better quality of life. The Whitmer administration and Michigan media outlets are attempting to create a new narrative that a climate change crisis is on its way and will lead to an American South that is too hot and has too little water. The result will be “climigrants” rushing for Michigan’s border to evade a climate change hellscape.

The problem is that migration patterns show the opposite. The Midwest has been losing population to the South. That’s the bottom line. No matter how much advertising and fear-mongering exist, concerns over imminent global warming, which have persisted for decades, will not convince large numbers of people to move to Michigan just in case.

So what can Michigan use to draw a larger population?

Attempting a Pure Michigan-like campaign will not work, if the past is any guide. Pure Michigan does not provide a significant return on investment, according to Mackinac Center analysis.

Then there is former Gov. Granholm’s “cool cities,” which went cold. Granholm and her allies tried to bring the so-called creative class to urban areas such as Detroit and Flint. It did not work.

A wise person who considers moving to a different state will look at cost of living and income potential. This means looking at the cost of housing, energy and insurance (auto and housing). It means, for those with children, looking at schools. Economic opportunity is key for people of working age, and businesses look for a friendly policy, labor and economic climate.

If U.S. News & World Report’s nationwide assessment has any validity, Michigan will not see a positive population shift anytime soon. The publication ranked the state 41 out of 50 in its list of the best places to live. The ranking considered eight factors, including a state’s affordability and costs of daily life.

Only nine states are less desirable than Michigan, by this reckoning. Michigan’s economy came in at 36. It was 37 in education, 37 in fiscal ability and 43 in infrastructure. It did come in at 20 in health care, and opportunity at 21, the only categories in which Michigan cracked the top half.

Michigan is also the seventh-cloudiest state, according to the Farmers’ Almanac, so if you seek a sunny peninsula, look elsewhere. State officials can't do anything about cloudy days, but they can have an influence on some things. Here are some steps they can take:

  • Lower auto insurance rates, which are still among the highest in the nation.
  • Lower energy rates and provide reliable energy. Stop the push for unreliable renewable energy.
  • Address the 160 occupational licensing requirements that prevent many people from entering a career field.
  • Reinstate right-to-work, which provides better economic outcomes for workers and businesses.
  • Stop wasting hundreds of millions annually in taxpayer dollars for corporate welfare.
  • Expand educational opportunity through funding children, not systems.

Economic studies reenforce the fact that when the government steps out of the way, economic opportunity flourishes, and a population increase is one benefit. Or we could just continue to go with narratives not grounded in fact and continue to lose people.

Jamie A. Hope is assistant managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential. Email her at

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.