Nurturing Michigan’s Most Important Relationship

By Roy Norton

On Oct. 7, Governor Snyder made his third official visit to Ontario in as many years. This shouldn’t be newsworthy; after all, Ontario is at the other end of the bridges and tunnels at Sault Ste. Marie, Port Huron, and Detroit. More than five million Michiganders and Ontarians make that crossing every year.

What’s remarkable about the Governor’s visit is that when he went to Toronto with a business delegation in November, 2012, it was the first time a Michigan Governor had called on the Premier of Ontario in six years. Ontario is Michigan’s best customer in the world. By a long shot. A few data points underscore that fact:

  • More than a third (37% in fact) of Michigan’s exports to the world are to Ontario (46% are to Canada)
  • Michigan sells more to Ontario than to its next seven most important customers put together (those are Mexico, China, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Japan, South Korea, and Australia)
  • Meaning the 13.5 million people of Ontario buy more Michigan-produced goods and services than the 1.8 billion people of Michigan’s second-through eighth next-best customers put together

Is it any wonder that Michigan’s leadership would want to pay particular attention to Ontario?

Michigan’s interest in Ontario is being reciprocated. Premier Wynne participated in the Council of Great Lakes Governors (CGLG) ‘Annual’ Meeting on Mackinac Island in early June this year. That was the first official visit by an Ontario Premier to the province’s best customer since 2005. For that matter, it was the first time the CGLG had met in eight years! Why only in 2013 – and why in Michigan? Probably because Michigan’s Governor became co-chair of the CGLG in January – and seems to have resolved that since the CGLG exists to bring regional decision-makers together to address and resolve issues of shared importance, it was high-time that Governors and Premiers meet to do the work they’re supposed to be doing. Several important Resolutions – pertaining to Great Lakes management and to eliminating barriers to trade within the region – were passed at that meeting (see:

This kind of contact matters – and not just in economic terms. Michigan ‘owns’ 31.7% of the total Great Lakes frontage, Ontario 49.5%. Meaning the two jurisdictions, together, ‘control’ more than 80% of all of the acreage fronting directly on the five Great Lakes. So when the leaders of Michigan and Ontario get together to discuss protecting the Lakes against invasive species – and other relevant issues – as they did in Toronto in October, their views not only matter, but are predominant in encouraging national governments (and other states) to embrace new, technologically implementable, standards.

On infrastructure and transportation issues – like forward planning for the New International Trade Crossing, the importance and desirability of a new double-stack rail tunnel connecting Detroit and Windsor, and the possibility of a high speed (or at least ‘higher speed’) passenger rail connection between Chicago and Toronto, via Detroit – these are two leaders who can play vital roles in driving necessary investment decisions.

While in Toronto, Governor Snyder met with a group of more than 80 business persons, many of whom represent companies with significant investments in Michigan, to discuss the state’s interest in public private partnerships. This meeting followed upon his keynote address, in November 2012, to the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships. Canadian expertise with PPPs is considerable; governments at all levels in Canada have accessed private capital to deliver major projects for years. The Governor took advantage of the opportunity to update prospective investors on the strong state of Michigan’s economy, and on all that’s being done to transform Detroit.

The Governor concluded his day with remarks at the new Toronto offices of the Detroit-headquartered law firm Dickinson Wright. DW has recently expanded its Toronto footprint – reflective, among other things, of the large increase in volume of cross-border trade (Michigan-Canada trade was $40 billion in 2009; it reached $75 billion in 2012).

Visits of this sort are important. In addition to casting light on the breadth of the existing relationship, they focus the attention of job creators in the private sector on untapped opportunities. Ever since his first State of the State speech, in which he placed great emphasis on extent to which Michigan could benefit by deepening its relationship with Canada, Governor Snyder has ‘walked the talk’. More jobs have been created on both sides of the border as a result of the profile the relationship now enjoys. Issues and challenges have been – or are closer to being – resolved. A Canadian diplomat charged with increasing the profile of his country in this state could not ask for better outcomes.

Did you know? More facts about Michigan-Ontario/Canada relations:

  • In the U.S. & Canada, MI & ON rank #1 & 2 in automobile assembly. A study by Ann Arbor’s Center for Automotive Research notes that 60% of the major components (e.g. powertrain) of autos coming off assembly line in Ontario consists of U.S. content;
  • 25% of the total value of Canadian manufactured exports to the USA consists of U.S. content;
  • 218,000 jobs in Michigan depend on trade with Canada;
  • 23,100 Michiganders work at companies in the state owned by CDNs (e.g. Ontario’s Martinrea, at facilities in Jonesville, Manchester, Detroit, Troy, and Auburn Hills; Ontario’s Magna International, at facilities in Holland, Benzonia, Southfield, Tory, Rochester Hills, and China Township; Ontario’s Linamar – in Southfield; Ballard Power Systems – in Dearborn; Ontario’s Guelph Tool Sales – in Warren; Canadian National – with facilities and employees across Michigan);
  • More than 80 Michigan companies have operations in Canada, including: Dart Container, Dow Chemical, Kellogg, Steelcase, Stryker, and Whirlpool (the Dow Chemical Company actually was founded in Michigan in 1897 by Herbert Dow – of Belleville, Ontario);
  • 68% all Michigan agricultural exports to world are to Canada; 20% everything grown on Michigan farms is sold to Canada;
  • 45% of total U.S.-Canada trade crosses the Michigan-Ontario frontier (in fact, 25% of the world’s largest two-way trade partnership crosses the 84-year-old Ambassador Bridge). In 2012, Michigan native Dr. Christopher Sands (now with the Washington, D.C.-based Hudson Institute) reviewed the vast network of bridges, tunnels, railways, ferries, pipelines and power lines linking Michigan and Ontario. He concluded: “Michigan is the gateway for the largest volume of trade in the largest bilateral trading relationship in the world”;
  • Energy development currently underway in Canada will create more than 460,000 jobs in the United States by 2035 – 16,000 of those in Michigan;
  • With bi-partisan majorities in every case, Michigan’s House and Senate have passed Resolutions supporting construction of the KXL Pipeline, endorsing the development of Canadian energy reserves, and calling for greater U.S.-Canada energy integration. Dozens of Michigan firms already supply goods, services and technology to the Alberta oil sands development;
  • At least seven Michigan municipalities have ‘sister city’ relationships with counterparts in Ontario (Ann Arbor & Peterborough; Bay City & Goderich; Flint & Hamilton; Holly & Leamington; Redford & Georgina; Sault Ste. Marie and Sault Sainte Marie. The most recent addition to that list: Monroe and Amherstburg – centers of opposing forces during the War of 1812; they have become sister cities in celebration of the 200 years of peace between the U.S. and Canada since the end of that conflict);
  • Michigan State University has had a Canadian Studies program longer than any university in the USA. MSU’s law school offers a joint degree program with the University of Ottawa’s law school;
  • The University of Michigan-Dearborn and the University of Windsor are partners in a joint initiative that enables participants to earn a Master of Public Policy (UM-D) and an MA in Political Science (U-Windsor);
  • The University of Detroit Mercy and the University of Windsor offer a joint law degree;
  • The University of Michigan’s Ottawa Internship Program celebrated its 30th Anniversary in 2013. Each year, more than twenty UM students are placed in the Ottawa offices of Canadian Members of Parliament for several weeks;
  • Stratford Ontario’s world-renowned theater festival attracts thousands of Michiganders each year. In fact, ‘Michigan Members of Stratford’ has several hundred adherents;
  • In 1926, the Victoria (British Columbia) Cougars (a professional team in the Western Hockey League) moved to Detroit and became the Red Wings. Six of the seven players whose numbers have been retired by the Wings were born in Canada (Abel, Delvecchio, Howe, Lindsay, Sawchuk and Yzerman);
  • Thousands of Canadians are season ticket holders of the Wings, Lions, Pistons and Tigers. Many southwestern Ontario sports enthusiasts consider Detroit’s storied franchises to be ‘their’ teams;
  • James Naismith, of Almonte, Ontario, invented basketball in 1891. Canadian students with exceptional basketball prowess frequently enroll at Michigan universities; one fine (current) example: the Wolverines’ Nik Stauskas;
  • Canadian-born Dr. Roger Coles, Professor at Central Michigan University, is considered the founder of the Special Olympics of Michigan Winter Games;
  • 170,000 Michiganders (or 1.7% of the state’s population) are of French-Canadian origin;
  • Ten Canadian artists exhibited in Grand Rapids’ Art Prize in 2013.

Originally posted in Dome Magazine