News Story

Whitmer Erroneously Claims State Taxpayer Handout To Pfizer Covered Vaccine Work

Company to get $10.5 million for plant that hasn’t been started yet

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer pitched a corporate welfare program she said helped pay for a building from which the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was shipped from in Michigan.

However, that Pfizer building has not yet been built.

Whitmer invoked one of the new COVID vaccines in urging the Legislature to reauthorize a corporate welfare program called Good Jobs for Michigan.

Whitmer said that renewing the program will “boost our economy and create good paying jobs.” She then supported the claim by noting that pharmaceutical giant Pfizer — now riding a wave of positive publicity for its COVID vaccine — had been the first recipient of the Good Jobs program in 2018.

Whitmer announced her push for a massive COVID relief package in a Jan. 19 news conference.

“Little known fact,” she said, “but Pfizer was the first business to utilize Good Jobs for Michigan and did so to build their sterile drug manufacturing plant in Portage, creating 450 good paying jobs. That’s right, the same Portage, Michigan, plant where the first doses of Pfizer’s safe, effective and approved vaccine shipped from at the end of last year that gave us all such pride.”

There is one problem with that assertion. Construction is not yet underway on the plant for which Pfizer is set to receive $10.5 million in state taxpayer-funded cash subsidies, plus an additional state grant of $1 million.

The sterile drug manufacturing plant, more formally known as a modular aseptic processing facility, it is projected to contain 400,000 square feet. But it has not been built, according to multiple news reports, which Portage officials confirm.

“They have not started construction,” building department supervisor Terry Novak said Friday. “We haven’t received any plans yet. We’ve heard that it’s still on track, but may be modified.”

There is also no concrete evidence that any of the “450 good paying jobs” the Pfizer expansion promised to create have appeared so far. Pfizer’s most recent report to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, required under the terms of the state subsidy, attributed zero new jobs to the project as of last September. It is possible that some jobs involved in the COVID vaccine rollout were backed by state funding.

Another Portage building official said he believed the company made investments in equipment modifications at existing facilities that have some role in the vaccine.

But according to several detailed news reports about Pfizer and its overseas partner BioNTech, much of the vaccine’s development and manufacturing was conducted elsewhere. The Pfizer complex in the Kalamazoo County acted as a packaging and distribution center for the final product.

Pfizer company officials had not responded to a request for clarification by late Friday afternoon.

Text and email requests to Whitmer’s media affairs office for comment also went unanswered.

The Good Jobs program Whitmer touted in her event was initiated in 2017, and it handed out $190 million through 2019. But a bill to renew the temporary program with an additional $300 million stalled in the Legislature last year. It is unclear how much money Whitmer intends for Good Jobs for Michigan to give corporations in 2021.

James Hohman, the director of fiscal policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, wrote on the center’s blog this week that even if state subsidies had been a (minor) factor in development of the COVID vaccine, that was “weak justification” for renewing the program. State subsidies of this sort simply don’t make sense for taxpayers, he said.

“For this program, it’s been all projected costs and no benefits” to date, he said.

Whitmer is right in saying that Michiganders take pride in a home state facility playing a significant role in the near miracle of quickly developing a vaccine to address a worldwide pandemic. Pfizer’s Michigan employees certainly deserve praise. But their achievements appear to have next to nothing to do with a state taxpayer subsidy for a facility that’s still on the drawing board.

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.