By JOHN FLESHER The Associated Press
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. (AP) — PulteGroup Inc.'s announcement Friday of plans to move its corporate headquarters from suburban Detroit to Atlanta came at an awkward time for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and his allies, who portray his policies as the cure for years of economic illness.
The homebuilding company's decision will cost Michigan roughly 300 jobs — hardly a catastrophic loss, particularly in view of the roughly 800,000 that left the state during the slump of 2000-2010. But the symbolism wasn't helpful, coming as Snyder prepares for a likely re-election bid after championing a business-friendly agenda of tax cuts, less regulation and a crackdown on unions.
The news broke on the final day of the Detroit Regional Chamber's annual policy conference on Mackinac Island — friendly turf for the Republican governor — and overshadowed his wrap-up speech focusing on efforts to develop a more pro-growth culture. Democrats said the loss raises doubts about his effectiveness.
"Gov. Snyder and legislative Republicans have been telling us for two years that this big corporate tax break that we just handed out was the key to bringing jobs to Michigan," Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer said. "We're seeing that despite all their changes, jobs are leaving."
Snyder told reporters he asked CEO Richard J. Dugas whether anything could be done to reverse the move and was told there wasn't. The governor described the PulteGroup relocation as a business decision to move closer to the company's customer base, rather than a reflection of state government policy.
Still, he acknowledged that Michigan's economic recovery remains a work in progress.
"That just comes back to say, is there something we need to do better? Yeah, we need to grow Michigan more," he said.
Michael Finney, president of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., said the PulteGroup departure is a minor bump in the road toward a recovery that has brought 200,000 jobs to Michigan in the past three years.
"The changes that have been made in terms of regulatory environment, tax policy and everything else, it's actually working," he said. "When you talk to the professionals in the economic development sphere, corporate site location experts, they will tell you these changes are getting Michigan on the radar screen."
PulteGroup, based in Bloomfield Hills, was founded in 1950 by William J. Pulte, who retired in March 2010. Members of his family are active in philanthropic causes that Snyder said would continue. Bill Pulte, grandson of the founder, leads a nonprofit program that is removing vacant houses in Detroit to reduce urban blight.
Detroit Regional Chamber CEO Sandy Baruah said a dynamic marketplace always will bring some job losses but the state's business climate is improving.
"At the end of the day, while it's disappointing, we're going to win more than we lose," he said. "I'm not too worried about it."