This article appeared in the March 2021 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.
For nearly 120 years, MMA has advanced the interests of our members and worked with state government on important policy issues. One of the most challenging periods in that long history occurred just last year as we faced a global pandemic.
Looking ahead, the MMA Government Affairs team is focused on helping to move manufacturing forward as vaccinations continue to be rolled out and normalcy is slowly but surely returning in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
“As we rebound from the pandemic, our members need state government to be a partner in our pursuit of excellence,” said Mike Johnston, MMA Vice President of Government Affairs and leader of MMA’s dedicated team of professional lobbyists working tirelessly to boost the competitiveness of the manufacturing industry.
Acting as the primary advocate for more than 1,600 members, MMA’s Government Affairs team works hand-in-hand with the membership and policymakers to promote and protect the interests of Michigan manufacturing — an economic sector that accounts for over $100 billion in goods produced and employs nearly 570,000 people.
Strong results require strong actions so MMA often acts as the “tip of the spear” on a broad cross-section of statewide policy issues unique to manufacturers, ranging from education and training, energy, tax, environmental regulation and more according to Johnston.
“We drive policy and advocate for solutions that help Michigan manufacturers compete on a national and global scale,” says Johnston.
MMA’s 2021-22 Legislative & Regulatory Action Plan has been set by MMA Policy Committees comprised of manufacturers large and small. Within the Agenda are the policies, issues and solutions that your Government Affairs team works on daily — the end goal is a business climate that allows manufacturers to compete globally.
With a new two-year legislative session kicking off in January and a slate of new legislators in office, Johnston and his team are working at every level of state government to push policies to allow manufacturing to create jobs and drive the state’s economic recovery.
Constraining Employer Costs for Record Unemployment
What Manufacturers Need to Know: Record unemployment levels, federal benefit extensions and state unemployment expansions present enormous costs to the entirely employer-funded system. MMA is fighting to make sure manufacturers aren’t footing the bill.
Policy changes, record unemployment and massive fraud related to the global pandemic have depleted the employer-financed Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund (UITF) that was rebuilt to a $4.8 billion reserve after the last recession. While the economy slowly recovers, how the state rebuilds that fund will have a dramatic impact on manufacturing. MMA is working with policymakers to find solutions to bolster the UITF without saddling employers with even greater tax burdens.
Yet there are some working in the opposite direction: Governor Gretchen Whitmer and legislative Democrats have repeatedly called for a permanent extension of state unemployment benefits from 20 to 26 weeks, a proposal that would cost manufacturers $220 million annually.
Investing in Upskilling Manufacturing Talent
What Manufacturers Need to Know: Large talent gaps impede manufacturing competitiveness and economic growth. MMA is driving a multi-faceted strategy to deliver the skills needed in the 21st century economy, with particular focus on the Going PRO Talent Fund.
After codifying the enormously popular and effective Going PRO Talent Fund program in statute, working to improve the flexibility of the training criteria and securing additional dollars for employer-driven training, MMA is pushing the state to invest even more.
“We are happy to see that the Governor is seeking $43 million in her fiscal year 2020-2021 executive budget recommendation,” said David Worthams, MMA Director of Human Resource Policy and MMA’s lead on legislative initiatives aimed at closing the skills gap. “The $15 million increase — thanks in part to a one-time appropriation of $15 million in workforce development funds — is indicative of MMA’s success in showing the great things that Going PRO is doing in the state.”
Developing a Pipeline of Manufacturing Talent
What Manufacturers Need to Know: To supply tomorrow’s manufacturing with the right talent, Michigan has to revolutionize its educational system.
“We believe there should be a tectonic shift in K-12 education,” says Worthams. “There are some outstanding programs that help students create career pathways and skills needed for manufacturing, but right now, they are unfortunately the exception rather than the rule in the Michigan education system. Most students are still being pushed to pursue four-year degrees without a real understanding for a wider spectrum of options.”
To combat this, MMA has advanced some state curriculum changes to support the development of Career and Technical Education (CTE), enhance career exploration and promote work-based learning. However, MMA is trying to drive more dollars to support CTE in state high schools.
To further the talent conversation, John J. Walsh, MMA President & CEO, has been elected to the steering committee of Launch Michigan, a group of education, philanthropic and business leaders dedicated to the complete review and overhaul of the K-12 system.
Credible and Flexible Workplace Safety Regulations
What Manufacturers Need to Know: As emergency MIOSHA rules imposing COVID-19 workplace safety requirements approach expiration, the state needs to find safe, flexible ways to fully return to in-person work.
Put into effect in October 2020, as the state approached a second COVID-19 wave, emergency rules issued by the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) are built on the premise that in-person work removes people from the “relative safety of their homes to interact with others who may be carrying the virus.” But we have learned much about the virus in the last year and manufacturing in particular has shown success in providing safe and productive in-person work environments. As the emergency rules approach an April expiration date, MMA is working with the Whitmer Administration to recognize successful best practices and permit more flexibility to allow the full complement of manufacturing workers to return to in-person work safely.
Getting Back to “Normal”
What Manufacturers Need to Know: The COVID-19 vaccine is our path back to the lives we love and a strong economy. MMA is helping to accelerate the vaccination distribution process.
The process of vaccinating the entire world is a colossal scientific, manufacturing and logistics effort. The initial rollout has seen some challenges but progress is improving.
“Rolling out the vaccine is massively complex and dynamic,” admits Johnston. “State agencies are working with 45 different public health directors because everything needs to happen locally.”
MMA’s plan is to help members figure out how they can integrate into the process — from large companies like General Motors with 7,000 employees in one plant where it may make sense to set up their own clinic to much smaller companies that need to find their place in the vaccination rollout that identifies critical industries, including some manufacturing sub-sectors, for priority vaccination.
“We’re working hard with state agencies, as well as our members, to help coordinate the process,” says Johnston.
Outperform Other States for Manufacturing Investment
What Manufacturers Need to Know: Michigan is in intense competition with other states to attract new jobs and create capital investment but, at present, they have few tools to lure new businesses to the state or entice existing companies to stay. MMA is advocating for tax incentives that will allow Michigan to compete in the national economic development competition.
Every state in the country offers some form of economic development incentive to attract new and retain existing jobs. Agreements under the successful MEGA program were stopped in 2011 and the Good Jobs for Michigan incentive program sunsetted in 2019, leaving Michigan without strong tools in the economic development toolbox. MMA has historically been a strong advocate in the endeavor to keep Michigan in the game. “Doing nothing is not an option,” reminds Johnston. “There is a lot of debate in Lansing about whether we should be engaging in incentives but one thing is clear: unilateral disarmament is a losing strategy.”
Preventing Costly Air Quality Remediation
What Manufacturers Need to Know: Ten Michigan counties are in danger of being designated for “moderate” nonattainment of federal ozone regulations — something that could impose costly emission control requirements for manufacturers across the state. MMA is directing a strategy to block this action.
MMA is doing everything it can to help mitigate issues surrounding air quality standards in ten counties located in southeast and southwest Michigan. The issue: air emissions are blowing in from Canada and negatively impacting the ambient air quality standards for the ozone as outlined in the federal Clean Air Act. Failing to meet the air quality standard threshold means getting bumped into a new category from “marginal” to “moderate” nonattainment for ozone. This will result in additional new and expensive emission control requirements imposed in those areas with some imposed statewide, not just in the nonattainment counties.
To combat this issue, MMA is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) in coordinating a study to determine ozone emissions entering Michigan across international borders and potentially avoid tightened emissions regulations. The Canadian Government, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Forest Service, University of Michigan and University of Colorado have contributed additional funding and in-kind services in support of the study. The goal is to demonstrate that emissions occurring in the affected counties are due to international transport of air pollution from Canada in hopes that the counties would qualify for the federal international transport exemption.
Ensuring Reliable and Affordable Fuel
What Manufacturers Need to Know: Line 5 is Michigan’s energy lifeline and MMA is fighting to defend it.
The Line 5 pipeline has been powering Michigan since 1953. It’s twin 20-inch parallel pipelines run under the Straits of Mackinac for 4.5 miles, supplying light synthetic crude and natural gas liquids, including 65 percent of the propane demand in the Upper Peninsula and 55 percent of Michigan’s statewide propane needs.
Burying the pipeline in a high-tech tunnel 100 feet below the Straits of Mackinac will further safeguard our Great Lakes ecosystem while delivering the fuel that keeps homes warm and Michigan’s economy moving. But there have been fierce attacks aiming to shut Line 5 down. MMA is fighting to keep Line 5 open and to ensure forward progress with building the tunnel that will ensure that manufacturers can access and afford the fuel they need.
Let’s Get to Work
The MMA Government Affairs team is excited to get started on advancing the new agenda by engaging and strategizing with members and policymakers in Lansing. And more importantly, they are excited to be part of the journey to rebuild and redirect the state as we all recover from a global pandemic. Check out 2021-22 Legislative Agenda in its entirety.
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