IRON MOUNTAIN - The Dickinson County area received a visit Tuesday from the 48th governor of Michigan - Rick Snyder.
He made stops at The Daily News, visited with city and school officials, took a tour of Verso Paper's Quinnesec mill, and finally to Bay West College in Iron Mountain for a town hall meeting.
It may have been his first stop in the local area as governor, but not his first time visiting the local community. Gov. Snyder said that he and his family a couple of years ago had vacationed in the U.P., and stopped at the Iron Mountain Iron Mine in Vulcan for a tour.
At the town hall meeting, Gov. Snyder discussed the role of government and that it's become taking and spending money.
"That's not what government should be doing," he said. "I took a serious look at this and my goal is making sure the buyer or citizens are getting the service they need. It's a customer service business - this is not rocket science. You hired me to do a job and to do it in a positive way and not blame anyone. I believe in solving problems in a common sense way and giving great customer service."
He challenges "all Michiganders to get fired up and develop a positive attitude." Gov. Snyder added that he realizes that the people of Michigan have gone through a tough year, but things are starting to turn around.
During the town hall meeting, a resolution was presented to Northern Star Industries Inc., which is headquartered in Iron Mountain.
Accepting the governor's tribute to the business' 50th anniversary were Dave Brule Sr. and his wife Elsa, Dave Brule Jr. and his wife Stephanie, Ellette and Johan Nyman and Steve Pontbriand. Northern Star Industries is made up of two divisions - Boss Snowplow and Systems Control.
In addition to the governor, State Senator Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba; and State Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan were in attendance along with U.S. Rep. Congressman Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls.
Some of the issues that Gov. Snyder touched on during his visit Tuesday included the phasing out of personal property tax for industrial properties, consolidation of school districts and local governments, the International Trade Crossing bridge over the Detroit River to Canada, as well as the future for agriculture, mining and manufacturing through the entire state.
The phasing out of the personal property tax for industrial properties is a concern to local cities and municipalities, who are losing this revenue source in their budgets.
But Gov. Snyder assured local officials, "We are not leaving cities with a hole. We want to partner with the cities, but this is a local issue under local jurisdiction. We have phased out personal property tax, but in return we will work to replace some of this in other areas. It won't be a dollar for dollar guarantee, but over 5-10 years we can work in partnership together to get a revenue stream that will be successful," he said. "I hope to see later this year or early next year a revenue stream that can be regular for local governments."
He stressed the need for local units of government to work together with the state on these issues and not competing against each other.
The same goes for the issue of consolidation that has been talked about a lot with school districts and cities. But contrary to what people have said Gov. Snyder also feels that is a local decision.
"We don't push legal consolidation. For schools, the consolidating of services is what we want to support with innovative fund opportunities. There are good opportunities to share information, technology, busing, and food services between districts to save money."
He added that he learned early on that "you don't ever attack a school's mascot," noting that is so important to the school's identity. That's why he's in favor of cooperative effort to share services.
Last year, the state had a pot of $5 million during the first year that was available for local governments to apply for to study or move towards consolidating services. "We had $23 million in applications, and since it was such a success the first year we've upped the budget this year. When we support consolidating services everyone wins," Gov. Snyder said.
He said that innovation as well as projects that showing a payback to the districts are what they are looking for in the applications.
The additional funding would be for the successful Economic Vitality Incentive Program, which Gov. Snyder feels will build stronger communities and promote regional cooperation.
"We encourage entrepreneurship in government and the sharing of ideas so other communities can look at this and also do. It's what government should be doing - providing better service to the customers, or taxpayers," Gov. Snyder said.
Cities and schools are not required to work cooperatively, but the ones that are doing it are highlighted by the state.
"And hopefully other communities will see it and watch what works well," the governor said. "Once they see the benefits, they will want to do something similar in their own areas. But it's not something we are pushing on them."
Another issue that continues to come up wherever Gov. Snyder goes is the International Trade Crossing, which would span over the Detroit River to Canada. The goal of constructing a bridge would be to increase international trade and create jobs.
But a special interest group is spending between $5-$10 million on what Gov. Snyder calls "misleading ads" to try and get a ballot proposal that would restrict the bridge construction.
"This bridge will help the economy of the entire state and is a great opportunity for us. If it wasn't for this special interest group, everyone would be on board with it. What it's really about is jobs for all of Michigan for the long term," he said.
In addition, Gov. Snyder talked about the fact that Canada has agreed to fund the portion of the bridge to be built in Michigan.
"It won't cost Michigan taxpayers anything. Canada is sure that they will get that money back from the bridge tolls. We are big trade partners with Canada and their Prime Minister said that this bridge is the number one infrastructure project they have," Gov. Snyder said.
He also discussed the Pure Michigan campaign and how well it was going to promote tourism in the state, as well as the need for more vocational training. This training is needed so that the jobs in the state available for welders, machinists, and other skilled trades can be filled.
"This hasn't been a focus in the state in the last 20-30 years and we need to do that again," he said. "It was a big mistake to take the emphasis off this training. We want the most skilled and talented workforce as possible in Michigan."
He said that the state's unemployment is at 8.5 percent. And in the employment portal there are 80,000 open jobs, including many in skilled trades.
Other areas needing attention include mining so that it continues into the future. He said that mining has a rich history in the area and an important industry for the state.
Although the agriculture industry has suffered with the recent drought, he said that this industry has been a 'shining star' for Michigan. It has for a long time been the top industry in the state.
"Exporting is also doing well and there are a lot of opportunities in manufacturing. We also need to focus on timber industry and come up with a strategic plan," he said. "Our forests are our big asset. We want to partner with the private sector - there are big opportunities here."
Gov. Snyder is enthusiastic about Michigan being a comeback state.
"We can do this by being positive, forward looking and working as a team. That is the spirit of our state. And my guiding objective is to have better jobs and a future for our kids. These are the things that deserve my full attention," he said.
Linda Lobeck's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.