New Detroit bridge crossing means jobs for West Michigan

By Rick Baker

Look around. Just about everything in your home or office was once on a truck.

Integrated supply chains make our lives possible. Access to reliable, efficient transportation routes is a critical component to trade and in deciding where businesses set up shop. To ensure West Michigan companies can compete, they need the infrastructure to connect them to the marketplace. That is why the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce is strongly supporting the New International Trade Crossing, the proposed bridge to link Detroit and Canada.

The chamber’s mission is to develop businesses and communities. The new bridge will support 109,000 jobs in West Michigan. That’s right. Not Detroit, West Michigan.

The new bridge is important to the Detroit area, but one in seven jobs here are directly linked to trade with Canada — jobs generating $2.4 billion in wages and taxes. A well-functioning border with Canada is vital to retaining and growing these jobs that support our West Michigan communities.

Here are the facts on why we need another bridge:

• Michigan-Canada trade grew 43 percent last year over 2009.

• Trade between Canada and the United States increased more than 20 percent in 2010.

• Ambassador Bridge traffic was up 11 percent last year over 2010.

• Over the long term, traffic and trade between Michigan and Canada has been increasing. As we recover economically, traffic will increase.

• The global economy demands and relies upon just-in-time delivery. Delays put our companies at a disadvantage.

• Without another bridge, in the event of catastrophic failure, terrorism or a tragic accident, literally millions would find themselves out of work.

The new bridge is not about getting rid of the Ambassador Bridge, it is about ensuring our strong trading relationship grows even stronger to support jobs in West Michigan.

So how will we pay for it?

First, the commercials you may have seen are simply untrue. The legislation before the state Senate could not be clearer. The Michigan taxpayer is not, nor ever will be, liable for any of the costs of construction or operation of the bridge. If the bridge never generates sufficient revenue, it is Canada that would be on the hook, not Michigan.

Private companies will bid on construction and operation of the new bridge. Through a governance agreement, Canada has agreed to pay Michigan’s share of the project, $550 million, to connect I-75 to the new bridge.

If that wasn’t enough, Gov. Rick Snyder successfully negotiated with the U.S. Department of Transportation to leverage Canada’s investment to secure $2.2 billion for transportation projects throughout the state including significant projects here in West Michigan.

And if that still wasn’t enough, our state will own half the bridge. Once it is paid off, we will begin collecting toll revenues estimated at $50 million a year.

Sounds too good to be true, right?

The reason Canada is being so generous is simple. The construction of a new bridge at Windsor-Detroit is Canada’s No. 1 national infrastructure priority. Why is it so important to them? They know what’s at stake.

Eight million jobs in the United States, and a similar number in Canada, depend on trade between the two countries.

Twenty-five percent of all U.S.-Canada trade is handled by the 83-year-old Ambassador Bridge, more than $350 million every day. Ensuring capacity and redundancy at the Detroit-Windsor crossing is a matter of critical economic security. That is why Canada is willing to take all the risk to see that it is built.

Seeing the New International Trade Crossing built should be as important to Michigan and that is why businesses across the state support it. Half of everything Michigan sells to the world, and 30 percent of everything grown in this state is sold to Canada.

So why is this so controversial? My answer is when you have a private company with a monopoly over such an important asset, they will fight to protect it. The company that owns the Ambassador Bridge does not want competition. This would not be allowed in another industry and we should not let them stand in the way.

The New International Trade Crossing is one of those crucial decisions that will dramatically impact Michigan’s future. It is a tremendous economic development project that will benefit Michigan, and our children, for decades to come.

It’s a deal we should not turn our backs on. Join the chamber in urging our legislators to pass Senate Bills 410 and 411.

Rick Baker is president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

Boosting the Great Lakes International Economy

Brookings Institution

The regions on both sides of the Great Lakes international border need to team up to strengthen their highly integrated economies.

That was the conclusion of over 250 public and private leaders from both the United States and Canada recently brought together by Brookings and the University of Toronto Mowat Centre in Detroit-Windsor

The tone was set by Bruce Katz’s keynote–where he pressed for international metro action to expand exports and encouraged the industrial Great Lakes to seize and lead the low-carbon, clean-tech economy.

Overall, two topics dominated discussion by delegates as ripe for international teamwork.

One was building the 21st century transportation infrastructure the region needs as a platform for enhanced exports–and in particular building a state-of-the-art span connecting Detroit and Windsor, the world’s highest dollar international trade crossing point. Michigan Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, and Canada’s Consul General Roy Norton were pitching hard for the Michigan Legislature to follow Governor Rick Snyder’s call, and vote final approval for the new bridge.

The New International Trade Crossing has been 10 years in the planning, and is strongly backed by business leaders and governments on both sides of the border. It seemed a done-deal when Gov. Snyder announced that Ontario would pay cash-strapped Michigan’s share of the project, and in turn the U.S. Department of Transportation would let the Canadian dollars stand-in as Michigan’s match for federally-funded highway projects across Michigan.

The project keeps being sabotaged by the aging billionaire Mattie Maroun (born 1927), owner of the equally aging Ambassador Bridge (built 1929), fighting hard to keep a monopoly on toll traffic.

Maroun has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Michigan State legislators, and bankrolled groups that are behind dirty tricks that would make Donald Segretti blush, including fake eviction notices at the doors of homeowners near the proposed bridge and patently false TV spots claiming Michigan taxpayers will foot the bill.

Meanwhile the whole $250 billion economic relationship with Canada is at risk, as the tightly wound manufacturing, agricultural, and commerce supply chains are bottlenecked–just at a moment they are poised to grow.

Another area for Great Lakes international teamwork is converting the region’s prodigious innovation, technology-base, and manufacturing talent to support new jobs and leadership in the clean-technology market. Recent Brookings research shows Michigan already 12th in the nation in share of clean-tech jobs and confirmed the jobs potential of clean-tech growth.

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell made the point, “I can think of nothing more important than a more robust, and better harmonized Great Lakes renewable energy portfolio standard to drive job creation in the clean energy sector.”

Heartwell was articulating the market opportunities seen by business leaders in West Michigan, who feel well positioned to grow product lines and new jobs developing and manufacturing clean-energy and clean water solutions. When Gov. Snyder showed up in West Michigan to give his first “Reinvent Michigan Award” to Energetx, a wind turbine and electric vehicle parts supplier, the former venture capitalist was also petitioned by a 40-member delegation of clean energy business buddies, asking him to better support these emerging markets with more aggressive public policy.

As the Brookings study shows, clean-tech is one emerging arena in which to repurpose the engineering and manufacturing competencies of the Great Lakes to replace jobs lost in auto and other sectors–if state and metro leaders provide the supportive policy platform.