Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 10, 2013

Pure Mich. ad touts state's new right-to-work law

BY ANNE STANTON
astanton@record-eagle.com

TRAVERSE CITY — Critics contend a $144,000 Pure Michigan ad that touts the state's new right-to-work law poured salt in a not-so-pure wound.

"This is a betrayal of the intent of Pure Michigan advertising, which is supposed to showcase the best of Michigan," said Diane Ketola, a retired United Auto Workers international representative of Traverse City. "Going this route is showing the worst of Michigan."

The full-page ad ran Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal. It was from a corporate account of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, a public-private entity, said Kurt Weiss, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Snyder.

Taxpayers did not pay for the ad, he said.

The advertisement was an MEDC initiative and was not requested by Snyder, Weiss said.

The ad sparked comments from across the state and nation.

"If at first you succeed, rub your opponents' faces in the bitter stench of your underhanded victory," wrote Andy Balaskovitz of Lansing's City Pulse, an alternative weekly publication.

Michael Finney, MEDC's president and CEO, refused to respond to critics.

"Freedom to work is now a law of the state of Michigan, and our job is to sell to the business community all the advantages they may have in doing business in Michigan," Finney said. "It's not a campaign similar to tourism. It's a very targeted campaign to reach the business community."

The lame duck state legislature in December voted for the right-to-work law. Proponents touted it as a way to attract new businesses and boost Michigan's economy.

Critics charge the legislature rammed through the law without taking public comment or researching the law's impacts. The law allows workers to reap benefits of union membership without paying union dues.

The Pure Michigan ad is headlined, "What happens when Michigan makes history" and lists the new law as one of many reasons to do business in Michigan.

Traverse City union leader Corey Schichtel said he questions why Pure Michigan is being used as a "political device."

Doug Luciani, president and CEO of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce, said it's "technically appropriate" for Pure Michigan to market the state's business-friendly attributes.

"But this was probably too soon. It rubs salt in an open wound that needs some time to heal," he said.

Luciani said much of the outcry stems from the misconception that Pure Michigan promotes only tourism. In fact, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation tapped the Pure Michigan brand to market the state to businesses.

In hindsight, Luciani said the ad should probably have left out the new right-to-work law.

"We don't know the impact, the legal challenges to right-to-work laws yet, but I can understand why they did it," Luciani said. "They were trying to list all of Michigan's new things to attract business under their economic development brand."

The ad didn't bother State Sen. Howard Walker, R-Traverse City.

"My first take on it was that there are maybe some employers that are attracted to Michigan because it's a right-to-work state and (MEDC) thought it was worth getting the word out," Walker said.