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In Michigan, Granholm Looks to Green Industries to Provide Jobs

"We have great bones as a state," says Gov. Jennifer Granholm. "We know how to build stuff. We will build on that strength and diversify this economy. We will lead the nation in creating jobs in renewable energy."
"We have great bones as a state," says Gov. Jennifer Granholm. "We know how to build stuff. We will build on that strength and diversify this economy. We will lead the nation in creating jobs in renewable energy." (By Jeffrey Sauger For The Washington Post)

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Granholm says she is trying to diversify the economy, going after defense-related firms, robotics and life sciences along with green jobs.

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State Senate Majority Leader Michael Bishop (R) says Granholm has been remiss in not reshaping Michigan's business tax.

The state, he said, needs to change its image and "create an environment where taxes are low, labor costs are low, and not send so many negative vibes."

Granholm's office said that she has offered business tax proposals but that she has met opposition from the legislature and some business leaders.

Michigan felt the recession first and hardest. The state ranks fifth in foreclosures and last in attracting new residents. Nearly 20 percent of its citizens are on Medicaid. As the auto industry has shrunk, so has tax revenue. The state government technically shut down for nearly two hours early Thursday over a budget crisis, and the legislature and governor are still tussling over how to resolve a projected $2.8 billion deficit. Underlying all of the grim statistics is the loss of jobs. Michigan has had the nation's highest unemployment rate -- now 15.2 percent -- for most of the past three years.

"This is not a time for wimps," Granholm says to her two dozen cabinet members one recent morning. "The message is to continue to play offense -- go get jobs."

Granholm's résumé is well known in her state: Michigan's first female attorney general and governor; mentioned as U.S. Supreme Court candidate; graduated summa cum laude from the University of California at Berkeley, Harvard Law School, beauty queen, mother of three. The 50-year-old is a native of Canada who settled in Detroit in the mid-1980s after marrying a Michigan man; she was a federal prosecutor there for four years.

Her quick focus pleases businessmen such as David Hardee, top executive of California-based Clairvoyant Energy, who encountered Granholm at a meeting after spending three months negotiating with her economic development officials over a green-energy development.

"We were on the third slide and she politely interrupted and said, 'I get it. What do you need? I'm here,' " Hardee said.

With a tax incentive package worth more than $100 million, Michigan beat out Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, as well as Spain, in getting Hardee's company and two other alternative-energy firms -- one from Texas and one from Switzerland -- to take a factory that once made the Lincoln Continental and Ford Thunderbird about 40 miles northwest of Detroit in Wixom and turn it into a solar panel and battery storage pack manufacturer employing 4,000 workers.

In the spring of 2008, Granholm returned to Greenville to tour the United Solar plant that replaced the Electrolux factory.

"They had product orders all the way out until June 2009 back then," said Greenville Mayor Ken Snow. "But the global economy shifted. That left them with more product than orders that need to be filled."

Since March, United Solar has been feeling the downturn, and so have the workers in those hard-won positions. Some have been furloughed for six days each month.

There are no easy victories in the fight for jobs.

"You can't give up," Granholm says. "You gotta keep moving."

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