Is “Right-to-Work” the Right Move?
May 6 2013 by Dale Buss
Michiganers are grappling with an unprecedented issue: how to tout the state’s new right-to-work status in economic-development advertising, yet not allow the promotion to be confused with its effective “Pure Michigan” tourism-advertising campaign.
“In our current condition, we’ve got to present a message to the business community about all the advantages we have to offer,” says Michael Finney, head of Michigan’s economic-development corporation. “Now, we can say we’ve leveled the playing field to be considered for the 50 percent of projects where we wouldn’t have been considered before.”
Only a few months ago, such a battle would have been completely incongruous with the state’s tradition as a stronghold of organized labor, but that’s how quickly things have changed since the right-to-work movement emerged from political amber after 36 years.
Indiana preceded Michigan last year as the first new right-to-work state since Louisiana switched in 1976, and the first in the industrial Midwest. Now, 24 states plus Guam prevent forced workplace unionization.
“Right-to-work state” ranked only No. 12 on Area Development magazine’s list of site-selection priorities of corporations in 2012, and only No. 19 in a survey of site consultants. Many, however, expect the attribute to climb smartly after former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels spearheaded his state’s flip.
“Consultants told me point-blank that they were now putting Indiana back on their finalist lists for clients who were requiring a presence” in the Midwest, says Mark Arend, editor of Site Selection magazine.
No one expects a state’s new right-to-work status to vanquish unions. However, it does give companies more leeway to implement Six Sigma and other changes in their plants and “the confidence that they can manage their business appropriately to the market and not have constraints put in place,” says Robert Hess, executive managing director of the Newmark Grubb Knight Frank corporate site-selection arm.
The renascence of the right-to-work also is making California’s economic-development people even jumpier than they have been because it highlights the advantages of the right-to-work haven of Nevada just to the east.
“It’s going to have to be addressed at some point if Ohio wants to stay competitive even here in the Midwest,” says Roger Geiger, Ohio vice president and executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business. “Particularly once Michigan and Indiana prove that the sky hasn’t fallen for workers there.”
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