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‘Woman in Michigan’ Governs the No. 1 Economy

“That woman from Michigan” is the T-shirt worn by the 49th governor of the 10th-largest U.S. state after President Donald Trump berated her for ordering some indoor business services closed in 2020. Michiganders were among the most afflicted by Covid-19 as the coronavirus put more people out of work since the Great Depression.

Trump insisted governors were on their own in pursuit of respirators and ventilators, and singled out Gretchen Whitmer, the Lansing native elected in 2018 on a campaign to improve health care and infrastructure, for not being “appreciative” of his efforts when he told Vice President Mike Pence: “Don’t call the woman in Michigan.”

Whitmer, a 50-year-old Democrat who was the target of kidnappers plotting a payback for her lockdown measures, responded by saying that “right now, we all need to be focused on fighting the virus, not each other.”

“I’m willing to work with anyone as long as we get the personal protective equipment we need for the people of Michigan,” she said.

Whitmer today presides over an economy that improved the most in its history since the pandemic began two years ago. The Wolverine State’s second woman governor (Jennifer Granholm served from 2003 to 2011) outperformed the U.S. when Trump was in the White House and continues to do so 15 months after voters rejected his bid for a second term. Trump promised during his 2016 campaign to rebuild Michigan manufacturing, which deteriorated during his presidency and underscores his failure to win the state again in his re-election bid.

The turning point came when Trump moved to Florida. Among 37 states with a population greater than 2 million, Michigan is No. 1 based on equally weighted measures of employment, personal income, home prices, mortgage delinquency, state tax revenue and the stock market performance of its publicly-traded companies, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.(1)

Michigan, whose 10,077,331 population is 2% greater than 9,883,640 in the 2010 census, was perennially near the bottom of the U.S. during the past two decades. Whitmer’s first year in the governor’s mansion marked the beginning of the biggest manufacturing boom since the recovery from the 2008 recession. Non-farm payrolls since April 2020 surged 25%, almost double the 14.3% U.S. average and leading every state in the nation. Michigan unemployment is 5.6%, down from a pandemic high of 23.6%. 

The increase in tax receipts for the same period also was best in the U.S. as home values, mortgage health, personal income and publicly-traded equity of Michigan-based firms appreciated more than the U.S. average, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. 

Michigan under Whitmer has become a standout for investors. In the market for local government debt, the state’s AA-rated bonds returned 5.6% (income plus appreciation) since April 2020, outperforming neighboring Wisconsin (4.3%), Indiana (4.7%) and Ohio (4.7%) as well as the entire municipal market (5.3%), according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Bonds issued by the Michigan Strategic Fund returned 15% while those of the Detroit Downtown Development project gained 14%, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. 

In the stock market, seven of the 10 largest companies in Michigan by market value are among the top 10 global leaders in their industries. Detroit-based General Motors Co. and Dearborn-based Ford Motor Co. are No. 6 and No. 7 among the world’s largest vehicle makers. Midland-based Dow Inc. is the eighth-largest chemical products maker. Rocket Companies Inc., based in Detroit, is No. 2 in financial services.

Southfield-based Sun Communities Inc. is No. 5 among residential real estate trusts and Ann Arbor-based Domino’s Pizza Inc. is the world’s eighth-largest restaurant chain, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. 

Corporate Michigan under Whitmer marked an important milestone when Kalamazoo-based Stryker Corp., the world’s third-largest medical devices maker (in an industry Whitmer considers a 21st century leader), became the state’s biggest company by market capitalization, overtaking Dow, GM and Ford. Stryker, which added employees at an average annual rate of 10% during the past five years, will see a 7% increase in revenue next year, above the estimated 5.4% average of its peers, and can turn $100 of sales into $63 of profit, compared with $57 for its competitors. Stryker also is creating more jobs -- employment increased 7.5% last year, topping the industry average of 5.8% -- according to data compiled by Bloomberg. 

During the eight years between the Great Recession and the end of 2016, Michigan’s manufacturing gross domestic product led the U.S. with 73% growth when the national average was 21%, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Michigan manufacturing went into a tailspin after Trump was inaugurated, declining 4% over his term as No. 6 from the bottom among the 50 states. 

“The woman from Michigan”’ can take credit for the rebound.

(1) Only Maine, population1 million, and Idaho, 2 million, did better than Michigan among the 50 states.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Matthew A. Winkler is Co-founder of Bloomberg News (1990) and Editor-in-Chief Emeritus; Bloomberg Opinion Columnist since 2015; Co-founder of Bloomberg Business Journalism Diversity Program in 2017. During his 25 years as Editor-in-Chief, Bloomberg News was a three-time finalist and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting and received numerous George Polk, Gerald Loeb, Overseas Press Club and Society of Professional Journalists and Editors (Sabew) awards.

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