WEF comes to Michigan, but who will go to Davos?

Who will Michigan send to Davos, and what will they bring back?

Some $6 million in taxpayer funds is committed to the World Economic Forum-Automation Alley partnership in Troy, with $3 million coming from the state, and $1 million per year, for three years, coming from Oakland County. It’s fair to ask what the benefits will be. What does a nonprofit from Switzerland have to teach Metro Detroit about manufacturing?

But I start my search with an easy question: Who will go to Davos?

On June 2, the board of the Michigan Strategic Fund, a state agency that disburses money to private businesses, voted 9-0 to invest $3 million into the partnership, called the U.S. Centre for Advanced Manufacturing. A week before, the board was apprised of 10 expected outcomes of the partnership.

No. 7: “The opportunity for a Michigan executive to attend the Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos.”

A Michigan executive. As in, one. It cost $6 million in taxpayer money to get behind the velvet rope of Davos.

So who will go to the 2023 annual meeting, which will be held Jan. 15-20? This year’s annual meeting was held in May, and it was the first since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Who will Michigan send to Davos, and at what cost? If it’s Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — assuming she is still governor then — it won’t be cheap. Whitmer doesn’t travel alone, and she is unlikely to fly commercial.

A decade ago, Ross Sorkin of The New York Times found that bringing even a small group to Davos is expensive. Like, property on Lake Michigan expensive.

Sorkin wrote:

And if you want to take an entourage, say, five people? Now you’re talking about the “Strategic Partner” level. The price tag: $527,000. (That’s just the annual membership entitling you to as many as five invitations. Each invitation is still $19,000 each, so if five people come, that’s $95,000, making the total $622,000.)

Neither the governor’s press office nor the Michigan Economic Development Corporation responded to Michigan Capitol Confidential’s query. It’s in the early days yet, and perhaps the decision hasn’t been made.

Spending $6 million to partner up but not go to Davos, with the opportunity in hand, would seem a waste.

These partnerships are not really about the robots that will replace workers on factory floors across Southeast Michigan. They’re about the friends made in the ski chalet.

How will Michigan’s representative get to Davos, and who will pay to get them there? As a taxpayer, would you rather the funds come out of your pocket, or that of a businessman who might be owed a favor? There are no good answers. You didn’t ask for this dilemma, but you’ve been signed up for it.

Who will go to Davos? Who will go with them? What will this cost the Michigan taxpayer? And what will they bring back, from a week of glad-handing? Attendance is not a deliverable.

Come January, CapCon will be watching.

James David Dickson is managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential. Email him 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.