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Gov. Whitmer’s Mackinac Policy Conference Keynote as Prepared for Delivery


May 30, 2024


Gov. Whitmer’s Mackinac Policy Conference Keynote as Prepared for Delivery


MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. --Today, Governor Gretchen Whitmer will deliver the keynote address at the 2024 Mackinac Policy Conference.


Since taking office, Governor Whitmer has brought Democrats and Republicans together to power strong economic growth. Michigan has added 61,000 jobs year over year; the unemployment rate is 3.9%; Michigan is a #1 state for energy sector job growth and automotive industry and electric vehicle investments; and the state has secured 38,600 new auto jobs and $16 billion of investment with economic development tools that bring manufacturing and supply chains home from China. 


Governor Whitmer is focused on continuing that tremendous progress to grow the economy and create jobs. In her keynote, she will focus on culture, capital and creativity by announcing Michigan’s first ever Chief Innovation Ecosystem Officer, two executive actions to open testing equipment, facilities, and infrastructure to entrepreneurs, and PitchMI, a statewide startup pitch competition open to early-stage startups building the most innovative next generation companies.


Please see below for her remarks as prepared for delivery.




It’s good to be back! I want to thank Conference Chair Suzanne Shank, Chamber CEO Sandy Baruah, and all the staff who put this important event together every year. This has been an incredible conference. I hope you all got to see my friend Secretary Raimondo talk this morning. Secretary Raimondo, by the way, is a Michigander by marriage. As I said yesterday, between her and Secretary Pete Buttigieg, we are slowly but surely marrying the entire cabinet into Michigan.


I want to acknowledge my partner in government, Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist.


Before I get started, let’s give all the people working hard behind the scenes a big hand—especially the Grand Hotel and service staff.


2 years ago on this stage, I talked about Michigan in the year 2100 and what we need to do now to set up future generations for success. Last year, I spoke about how we can strategically grow our economy and population and established an aptly named council to create a state strategy to meet our population goals.


The theme of this year’s conference is “Bridging the Future Together”—fitting for an island in sight of the Mighty Mac. The bridge is a living symbol of the promise of Michigan. It’s a million-ton monument to what Michiganders can do when we put our minds together to solve a difficult problem. That’s what I want to talk about today.


We will focus on economic development and one aspect in particular: innovation. 


Michigan has a rich history of innovation. The University of Michigan is the 2nd largest recipient of R&D funding and holds the 3rd most patents of any institution in the nation. 


Michigan State University’s Facility for Rare Isotope Beams discovered new isotopes just a few months ago. 


Wayne State University’s TechTown Detroit has supported more than 6,000 businesses and raised more than $400 million in capital. But out of a sample of 231 high-tech startups originally founded in Michigan, just half remain. 


Which begs the question: how can we support innovators, grow Michigan’s economy, and set our state up for sustained success?


I’ll talk about the three Cs of innovation—culture, capital, and creativity—and unveil new tools to build on our economic development record and unleash Michigan innovation.


Michiganders are innovators.


Dr. Homer Stryker from Kalamazoo built a medical tech empire.


Elijah McCoy from Detroit filed 57 patents, including a portable ironing board, a lawn sprinkler, and a device that lubricated train parts as they were running. There’s a joke here…


Sherman Poppin from Muskegon needed a way to entertain his two daughters one snowy Christmas, so he stuck two skis together and called his new board “the snurfer.” It would later be called the snowboard.


Bill Post invented the Pop-Tart—as dramatized in Jerry Seinfeld’s new movie. Kids really owe us…and so do dentists.


James Vernor invented Vernor’s ginger ale—a delicious pop, and as my grandma Gretchen and mom Sherry believed, the cure to literally every ailment.


Anna Bissell sold the sweeper that she and her late husband patented together, going on to become the first woman CEO in America.


There are so many others:

  • Pfizer in Portage. 
  • Perrigo and Steelcase in Grand Rapids. 
  • Whirlpool in St. Joseph. 
  • Faygo in Detroit. 
  • Chelsea Milling Company AKA Jiffy Cornbread in Chelsea. 
  • Carhartt in Dearborn. 
  • Stormy Kromer in Ironwood. 
  • I could go on and on! 


And of course we all know the most famous Michigan innovation: automobile manufacturing. At the turn of the twentieth century, Michigan had some natural advantages: railroads, waterways, timber, and ore. 


Putting lines on the road and installing the first ever traffic light at the corner of Woodward and Michigan was just step one.


Then came the assembly line and the Model T, which took the world by storm. By 1940, 60% of the world’s cars were assembled in Michigan. Aspiring auto innovators flooded Michigan and founded new companies like GM and Chrysler. Michigan was the center of the action.


For centuries, innovators drove Michigan forward, solved problems, and pushed boundaries in the process. They proved that innovation is infectious. One idea leads to more. This cycle quickly becomes self-perpetuating. It brings new ideas, people, jobs, and opportunities to our communities.


Starting that virtuous cycle comes down to a few things: 

  • a skilled workforce…
  • streamlined processes…
  • access to capital…
  • support to test, develop, and commercialize ideas. 


We have made progress in many of these areas. But today, let’s go further.


It starts with the three Cs I mentioned earlier. Culture…Capital…Creativity. You know I love alliteration. The truth is entrepreneurs need all three to thrive.


They need to feel represented in the culture. Capital to make audacious bets on their ideas. And fewer barriers to creativity.


First, culture. We must build a culture of innovation and make Michigan a place where innovators and entrepreneurs feel seen and heard.


We can’t do this alone. It takes pioneers. Thankfully, we have some doing work every day in places like Corktown, supported by organizations like Black Tech Saturdays and the Michigan Founders Fund. Next week, many will move into a revitalized Michigan Central Station. I want to thank Bill Ford for his leadership to get this done. You may know him as Sheila’s brother! 


They are on the ground, making a concerted effort to build a sense of community and accelerate the innovations that will drive Michigan forward. Our job is to have their backs by making sure they feel seen and represented.


Today, I am pleased to announce a new team member at the MEDC who will serve as Michigan’s chief advocate and first point of contact for entrepreneurs. 


Ben Marchionna will be Michigan’s first-ever Chief Innovation Ecosystem Officer. 


Let’s give Ben a hand. He will help build a community of innovation in Michigan where every founder and dreamer knows they have a voice in state government.


Second, capital. Ask any entrepreneur what they would do if money were no object, and you’ll get an earful of ideas. Every entrepreneur knows their next big idea. Access to capital can spur innovation like nothing else.


That’s why, last January in the state of the state, I proposed an Innovation Fund to invest in high-growth startups and create thousands of jobs.


Today, I am excited to announce PitchMI.


PitchMI will be a statewide, shark-tank-style competition helping innovators address the biggest problems facing Michigan. PitchMI will identify a challenge that Michigan innovators will rise to meet. The state, in partnership with leading organizations, will host a public competition to solicit pitches and then invest in the most innovative start-up. That start-up will then be able to take the capital and make a real difference.


Have you heard of Ring Doorbells or Kodiak Cakes? Those companies didn’t get a deal on Shark Tank. PitchMI will draw attention and exposure for hundreds of promising upstarts making a difference here in Michigan even if they don’t win.


The 1st PitchMI topic is very near and dear to my heart. This year, PitchMI will identify and award $100,000 to the next innovative idea in roads and mobility! We’re asking a very simple question: how will you help Michiganders get from point A to point B safely, affordably, and efficiently?


Is it a new way to fix the roads? Improve the range and efficiency of electric vehicle batteries? Connect public transit systems?


To everyone out there who eats, sleeps, and breathes fixing the damn roads, now is your chance! PitchMI is more than just an opportunity to live out your Shark Tank fantasies. It provides the capital you need to get your great idea off the ground so you can solve problems. 

Finally, creativity. 


I enjoy watching others express their creativity, like Jahmyr Gibbs, Sam LaPorta, and Jameson Williams who all drew their own Lions logos. 


I even took a stab at painting the logo myself during the Draft last month.


Creativity is important, but it’s impossible to be creative in a vacuum... unless you’re Anna Bissell. But even drawing that simple, very accurate Lions logo required paint, a canvas, some inspiration, practice, and patience. 


The same is true for the big stuff. To research, test, develop, and commercialize a new idea, you need equipment, facilities, tools, and expertise. Sometimes those fundamentals just cost too much or are inaccessible. And while access doesn’t guarantee success, lack of access is a complete barrier.


Take Remora. They are building next-gen hardware in Wixom to capture semitruck carbon emissions. But to test wear and tear on their product, they need access to a piece of large, expensive equipment called a chassis dynamometer. Basically, a treadmill for a truck. I know, it’s hard to believe people don’t just have those in their garages.


With access to this device, Remora can subject their prototype to the harshest conditions imaginable, make changes, and build a better product. In a word: innovate. But when Remora was an early-stage startup and needed a chassis dynamometer, the most affordable one was $188,000—and in Indiana.


Not helpful. Michigan has exactly what Remora and other startups need. State and local governments, universities, civic organizations, and the military have some of the most cutting-edge equipment and specialized testing facilities. But too often, they’re inaccessible.


Today, let’s start building out what I’m calling the “Infrastructure for Innovation” right here in Michigan. 


Earlier, I signed an executive directive instructing state agencies to catalogue technology, equipment, and facilities across the state and work with the owners to make it available to the innovators who need it.


Just this morning, thanks to the Biden-Harris Administration, we announced an expansion of Project Diamond, a partnership between Automation Alley and Oakland, Macomb, and Wayne Counties that will use federal funding to connect manufacturers with a network of 3D printers.


We will also enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to make infrastructure like the chassis dynamometer at the U.S. Army Ground Vehicle Systems Center accessible to Michigan innovators. This MOU, the first of many to come, expands access to talent, testing facilities, and equipment.


I want to recognize the Adjutant General, Major General Paul Rogers, for being a steadfast partner.


Michigan will be the first state in the nation to get this done, and the only one to take such a strategic, proactive approach to open the infrastructure for innovation. 


Together, these three actions will strengthen our comprehensive economic development strategy.


Here’s a quote: “many of the factories have left Michigan. One of our greatest corporations is building 14 new plants—seven of them in Ohio but none in Michigan. Western and Southern states particularly are doing their utmost to lure industry from Michigan.” That was Republican Governor Kim Sigler…in 1947.


Not a bad looking guy, by the way, especially compared to most of the pictures in my office. We think kids these days like their beards, but Michigan governors really had a thing for mutton chops. These guys inspire me every day.


Governor Sigler’s solution? “A working committee of research talent in agencies, colleges, and institutions to coordinate the state’s economic fields and utilize all of its research facilities in economic development.” Sound familiar?


We worked together in 2021, guided by the same principles and instincts that drove Governor Sigler, to put powerful economic development tools in our toolbox that have helped us win transformational projects creating thousands of high-tech jobs in Detroit, Flint, Big Rapids, Bay City, and Van Buren Township. 


We’ve redefined our story. Just years ago, TIME called Detroit a “tragedy.” Now: Detroit is one of the world’s greatest places. Since I took office, we announced more than 38,000 good-paying auto jobs. We’re home to the #1 emerging startup ecosystem and the “next Silicon Valley” for mobility innovation. 


Just a couple miles away from where the first concrete road in Michigan was paved, Electreon is building the first under-the-road electric vehicle charging station. Detroit’s population is growing for the first time in nearly 70 years.


Since last year’s conference, we worked with business, labor, environmental leaders, and others to invest in our places and people and build a workforce that drives innovation.



  • lowered the age for Michigan Reconnect to 21…
  • lowered the cost of college with the Michigan Achievement Scholarship…
  • delivered free breakfast and lunch to every public school student…
  • protected reproductive freedoms and repealed our criminal ban on surrogacy…


We put Michigan in the lead on President Biden’s clean energy boom…powered wind and solar projects across our state…and enacted a 100% clean energy standard by 2040…


We will soon be the first state in our nation’s history to restart a nuclear power plant. That’s what the President would call a BFD…


We won manufacturing projects from Corning, Piston Automotive, and so many more.


And we’re making the largest investment to build affordable housing in Michigan history—and just yesterday we raised our housing goal.


We’ve made a lot of progress and kept on telling our story.


Recently, we’ve felt something that has always been embodied by our people and defines the spirit of our state: hope.


We should believe in Michigan AND we should brag about Michigan. Last month, we hosted a kickass NFL Draft! 


We brought our trademark Michigan swagger and pride to the occasion, and showed a record-breaking crowd of more than 750,000 fans a great time. Coach Campbell, GM Brad Holmes, and owner Sheila Hamp made some great picks, and the Lions are ready to roar back into the playoffs this fall.


So, my fellow Michiganders, we have an opportunity to tell the next chapter of our story. Let’s get to work building an innovation ecosystem that is the envy of other states. Let’s keep growing Michigan’s economy and population. Let’s build a bridge to the future and create a more innovative, prosperous, and strong Michigan. Thank you.