News Story

Whitmer Still Claiming Vaccine Credit From Subsidy For Unbuilt Pfizer Facility

‘Those are not the claims we are making,’ says economic development official

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and state government economic development officials continue to tout the role of a state subsidy in the development of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine. This comes despite evidence that the project for which Pfizer received a $11.5 million incentive is not built yet.

As Michigan Capitol Confidential reported Jan. 22, the 400,000 square foot sterile drug manufacturing plant for which Pfizer received an incentive package in 2018 remains on the drawing board.

Yet Whitmer, in her Jan. 27 State of the State address, and again on Feb. 3, tied the taxpayer subsidy to the vaccine.

In her State of the State address, said that the rollout of the Pfizer vaccine had made Michigan the “epicenter of hope” in the fight against COVID. She followed that up by asking legislators to reauthorize spending on the business subsidy program known as Good Jobs for Michigan.

“You might not know this, but Pfizer was the first business to utilize Good Jobs for Michigan. They built their sterile drug manufacturing plant and created 450 good paying jobs,” she said.

Whitmer visited the sprawling Pfizer complex, which has been in operation since the early 1950s, to highlight the vaccine. She issued a statement which referred to “Pfizer’s global manufacturing site in Kalamazoo — which was developed in 2018 through the Good Jobs for Michigan program. ...”

But as the Michigan Capitol Confidential story revealed, building department officials in the city of Portage said Pfizer has yet to submit plans for building the processing facility. And the company reported to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation in September 2020 that no new jobs attributable to the state subsidies had been created so far.

Whitmer’s office did not respond to requests for clarification.

MEDC spokesman Otie McKinley, when asked to describe the evidence behind the claims of a connection between the Good Jobs subsidy for a planned-but-not-built facility and the vaccine, issued a statement. “Pfizer was the first business to utilize Good Jobs for Michigan with plans to build a new sterile drug manufacturing plant at the same Portage, Michigan facility where the first doses of Pfizer’s safe, effective and approved vaccine are being produced. Our message has been consistent: Good Jobs for Michigan has led to companies like Pfizer — one of the lead producers of the vaccine — to choose to expand and secure their presence in Michigan.”

In a follow-up inquiry, McKinley was asked how claims that the Good Jobs program was related to a vaccine’s development “can be reconciled with the fact that their Good Jobs project is still on the drawing board.”

He replied: “Those are not the claims we are making ... or any other statement we have provided. As such, we don’t have anything additional to add at this time.”

Pfizer also did not respond to a request for an explanation of what role the state subsidy may have played in development of the vaccine.

But Whitmer has not been alone in directly tying Good Jobs subsidies to the Pfizer COVID vaccine.

On Dec. 25, a group called Economic Development Leaders for Michigan, a coalition of 12 regional economic development officials, wrote a statement in the Grand Rapids Business Journal: “When Good Jobs for Michigan was passed in 2017 ... the Michigan Legislature couldn’t have known the initiative would play a role in fighting a deadly pandemic. When Pfizer invested in building a $426 million manufacturing facility in Portage, bringing over 450 good-paying jobs to the state, the Michigan Strategic Fund awarded the company a $11.5 million grant. Now, the facility manufactures Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.”

A southwest Michigan representative for the group, whose territory includes the neighboring cities of Kalamazoo and Portage, did not respond to a request for clarification about what that assertion, given the status of the not-yet-built facility, was based upon.

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.