Whitmer touts Michigan’s history of innovation, announces support for entrepreneurs


Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivers her keynote address at the 2024 Mackinac Policy Conference. (Kyle Davidson/Michigan Advance)

By Michigan Advance

May 31, 2024


MICHIGAN—After calling back to the creations of Michigan innovators—including the snowboard, Vernor’s ginger ale and of course, automotive manufacturing—Gov. Gretchen Whitmer pitched her plan to make Michigan more friendly to entrepreneurs and startups.

In her keynote address at the 2024 Mackinac Policy Conference hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, Whitmer focused on three components she identified as the drivers of innovation: culture, capital and creativity.

“The truth is entrepreneurs need all three of these things to survive and to thrive,” the Democrat said. “They need to feel represented in the culture, and capital to make audacious bets on their ideas. And fewer barriers to creativity.”

The state needs to create a culture of innovation to ensure entrepreneurs feel seen and heard, Whitmer said, noting this effort needs partnerships and pointing to the work of organizations like Black Tech Saturdays and the Michigan Founders Fund.

As the Michigan Advance first reported, Whitmer also announced Ben Marchionna as the state’s first chief innovation ecosystems officer through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to ensure individuals starting businesses feel represented in the state.

In addressing the second component, capital, Whitmer pointed to her proposal in her 2024 State of the State address for an innovation fund to invest in high growth startups. She also announced a statewide pitch competition, PitchMI, which will solicit pitches from investors looking to address issues within Michigan, with the first competition awarding $100,000 for innovations in roads and mobility.

While touching on creativity, Whitmer noted that testing new efforts takes resources.

“To research, test, develop and commercialize a new idea, you need equipment, facilities, tools and expertise. Sometimes those fundamentals just cost too much or are completely inaccessible. And while access doesn’t guarantee success, lack of access is a complete barrier,” She said.

In response, Whitmer called for a build out of the “Infrastructure for Innovation” which her office previously defined as shared technology or resources that entrepreneurs and businesses can use to grow in Michigan.

“Earlier, I signed an executive directive instructing state agencies to catalog technology, equipment and facilities all across our state and work with the owners to make it available to innovators who need it,” Whitmer said.

She also touched on her earlier announcement expanding Project DIAMOnD, also first reported by the Advance. It’s a network of 3D printers launched in Oakland County intended to provide manufacturers with printer access and training.

The state will also enter a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to make its infrastructure available to Michigan innovators so they can test their ideas.

“Michigan is gonna be the first state in the nation to get this done and the only one to take such a strategic, proactive approach to open the infrastructure for innovation,” Whitmer said. “Together, these three actions will strengthen our comprehensive economic development strategy.”

She also pointed to a quote from Republican Gov. Kim Sigler in 1947 where he said “many of the factories have left Michigan. One of our greatest corporations is building 14 new plants — seven of them in Ohio but none in Michigan. Western and Southern states particularly are doing their utmost to lure industry from Michigan.”

What was Sigler’s solution?

It was assembling a working committee of research talent in agencies, colleges, and institutions to coordinate the state’s economic fields and utilize all of its research facilities in economic development.

“Sound familiar,” Whitmer asked, in a reference to the state’s own economic development strategies.

As she looked to the future, Whitmer recounted her administration’s accomplishments from the past year, including providing public school students with free breakfast and lunch, protecting reproductive rights and repealing the state’s criminal ban on surrogacy.

She also pointed to the state’s support for clean energy projects, the establishment of a clean energy standard, and the government’s ongoing investment into affordable housing, noting the state had recently increased its goal to 115,000 units by 2026.

Whitmer touted the state’s plan to restart the Palisades Nuclear Plant as the first effort of its kind within the U.S. and its success in winning manufacturing projects from companies including Corning and Piston Automotive.

In closing her speech, Whitmer called on Michiganders to take control of the next chapter in the state’s story.

“Let’s get to work building an innovation ecosystem that is the envy of other states. Let’s keep growing Michigan’s economy and our population. Let’s build a bridge to the future and create a more innovative, prosperous, and strong Michigan. I know together, there’s nothing we can’t do,” she said.

READ MORE: Manufacturing industry leaders weigh in on need for more talent in electric vehicle transition

This coverage was republished from Michigan Advance pursuant to a Creative Commons license.




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