Gretchen Whitmer wants to bring back scaled-down Pure Michigan campaign

Pure Michigan

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is proposing to add $15 million to the Pure Michigan advertising campaign in this year’s budget. (Shutterstock photo)

LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants to bring back the Pure Michigan advertising campaign she vetoed last fall, but she wants the tourism industry to help pay for it. 

The first-term Democrat on Thursday proposed $15 million in state funding for the award-winning advertising campaign as part of her $61.9 billion executive budget recommendations for fiscal year 2021. 

That’s less than half of the $37.5 million in funding Whitmer vetoed for the current fiscal year as part of an aggressive budget negotiation tactic with the Republican-led Legislature. 

Beyond that, she’s “inviting” the tourism industry to help foot the bill for a program her administration says “encourages travelers to experience Michigan’s four-season natural beauty, its unique urban destinations and its world-class cultural attractions.” 

“I’ve always supported Pure Michigan,” Whitmer told reporters Thursday during a roundtable media event in her Lansing offices. “The tourism industry thinks there should be additional dollars there, and I’m eager to work with them in terms of where those dollars might come from.”

The state has continued to use the Pure Michigan brand on social media accounts and websites but wound down the television and billboard campaign when contracts with private advertising and public relations firms expired in late 2019.

Budget director Chris Kolb said the state envisions Pure Michigan as a $30 million campaign, with half the funding coming from outside sources. 

“We do believe it’s been a successful program,” he said. “The tourism industry thinks it’s a successful program, so we’re confident that they -- to continue that success -- will join us in partnering” on the program. 

What that partnership looks like remains to be seen. 

“I find it difficult to have a discussion about the specifics of potential funding for Pure Michigan next year, while the tourism and hospitality industries are still coping with the unjustifiable elimination of Pure Michigan funding this year," said Justin L. Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association.

"We are willing and ready to be part of the solution going forward, but the time for political theater is over.  Fix the mistake, restore Pure Michigan, and let’s move forward together.” 

Whitmer isn’t proposing to restore funding for the current fiscal year and didn’t include Pure Michigan in supplemental spending bill she also unveiled Thursday. But the advertising campaign remains a focal point of ongoing negotiations with the Legislature. 

Several lawmakers — primarily in northern Michigan areas that heavily rely on tourism — have rallied around the program in an attempt to restore founding.

State Rep. Jack O’Malley, R-Lake Ann, introduced a $37.5 million spending bill that would immediately fund Pure Michigan this fiscal year. The proposal had just one co-sponsor and has not yet seen a vote in the House Appropriations Committee.

“Pure Michigan has been a fantastic way to promote everything our state has to offer – from the Upper Peninsula to Detroit and everywhere in between,” O’Malley said at the time. 

“It benefits every region of our state, and this funding must be restored to help continue Michigan’s economic comeback.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, has questioned whether the government should continue to pay for the program. He was the first official to publicly suggest the tourism industry pay for it instead.  

“Taxpayers did a great service to the businesses of Michigan that enjoy tourism,” Shirkey said in December. 

“We came up with a research and development project, a test to see if this would work. Taxpayers funded it, proved that it would work, so it took all of the risk out of that risky investment. And now I believe the industry should own most of it.

Pure Michigan ads, which promote local tourism destinations and feature the iconic narration of Birmingham-raised actor Tim Allen, began in 2008. The Travel Michigan tourism promotion office oversees the effort within the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. 

Over more than a decade, Pure Michigan has emerged as a ubiquitous brand for the state. Its logo has been plastered on everything from license plates to private company billboards to clothing. 

But experts have long debated the value of the campaign, and how far its reach extends beyond the feel-good pride it can instill in local residents. MEDC touts paid research to make the case for its effectiveness. 

Most recently, Strategic Marketing and Research Insights of Indianapolis found the ads returned $9.28 in state tax revenue for every $1 spent outside the state in 2018. 

As Bridge Magazine previously reported, skeptics have questioned those return-on-investment numbers, and they have not been independently verified. Pure Michigan is significantly larger than just out-of-state ads, which accounted for roughly $16.5 million in spending in 2018. 

“The program is not only ineffective, it is unfair and expensive," Michael LaFaive, fiscal policy director for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, told Bridge last fall. 

The free market firm conducted its own study in 2016 and found that every dollar Michigan spent on tourism promotion returned created only 2 cents of value for the state's hotel industry. 

While Pure Michigan ads have stopped, spokesman Otie McKinely said the MEDC remains “actively engaged in conversation” to restore funding in the current budget year, “as we still have time to benefit the state’s economy through the critical upcoming spring and summer travel seasons.”

Whitmer’s proposal would support promotion efforts in 2021. 

"In the meantime, the Travel Michigan team will to work with our tourism and economic development partners across the state to position Michigan as a premier four-season travel destination and to share the quality of life Michigan has to offer,” McKinley said.

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Kevin Grand
Thu, 02/06/2020 - 12:17pm

If Pure Micbigan is such a boon to the Michigan economy, then why doesn't the Michigan CoC step up and fund it themselves?

They can pour in as much funding as they feel the campaign needs.

middle of the mit
Thu, 02/06/2020 - 8:47pm

This we can agree on!

The problem is, why spend your money on something that benefits you when you can get taxpayers to pay it for you? Professional sports teams come to mind. Dan Gilbert comes to mind. Heck there was a $2billion dollar tax break to business that republicans gave to business that the rest of us are still paying for.

But then again if business and business organizations don't have to spend their own money, according to conservative logic, that leaves more money for the businesses to invest in employees and back into the business. It's almost like saying that if you tax businesses they won't invest in your State or hire employees unless we give them a free for all that most other businesses don't get. Isn't it?

Then who ends up paying for the infrastructure that business NEEDS TO CONDUCT BUSINESS? WE DO!

Governor Whitmer is trying to do what she can for something that will benefit mostly the SE region of the State. But that is the economic engine of the State. Without those roads we all suffer.

And like the republicans say, but NEVER WANT to do, if you need it, pay for it.

And if we take out loans, we might as well do it now while the current President has cajoled the Fed Reserve to keep interest rates almost as low as they were during the Great Recession. It's gonna cost a lot more when the house of charades comes crashing down.

jesse atwell
Fri, 02/07/2020 - 8:48am

This MEDC program has been a total failure from the beginning. Why does anyone think we should keep pouring money down that rat hole. Dissolve the MEDC and we'll have another 700 million to spend on roads. Which is where the money should have gone in the first place...because that is what we voted increased taxation for several times now ...and always seems to wind up somewhere other than where it was supposed to go....... our Governor's and legislators have been playing a taxation shell game with us for so long now that no one knows how , where or when anything is being done.....Stop the games now ....put the money back where it was supposed to go in the first place....for the roads.....not schools....not outlandish pension shortfalls.....not in the legislators pockets.

David Andrews
Fri, 02/07/2020 - 9:11am

Michigan wants to pay half of the Tourism Industry marketing budget. But Michigan does not have any money to do that or to do anything else, so that $15M the state wants to subsidize the tourism industry with must come from her 9M residents. What do we get from promoting Michigan Tourism?
* Potholes in our roads from increased traffic
* Not a single downtown parking spot from New Buffalo to Petoskey from Memorial Day until Labor Day
* Additional deaths on our highways from Illinois Drivers travelling in excess of 85mph.

Could these funds be spent better? Perhaps the Automobile industry could use a $15M subsidy for its marketing budget; after all, Ford, GM and "whats-their-name-today" are more important to Michigan than tourism. If that $15M shifted to the automakers caused half of the tourism workers to leave their jobs and go to work in an auto factory, the increase in wages would quickly offset the state's outlay. Maybe other industries in Michigan could us a $15M subsidy - My Nephew could really use some help paying for his new quarter-million dollar tractor; heck, I wouldn't mind if the state would fund half of my web page promoting my asbestos inspection and air monitoring business.

Every dollar you spend is a dollar that Michigan taxpayers cannot spend so you must ensure that those dollars are spent wisely and not just given to an industry that can afford to buy lunches and trips to exotic places for those in government.

stella hagerman;
Fri, 02/07/2020 - 11:21am

I cannot believe the MEDC and its secret budget. As a former journalist we could never get a look at their budget that is made up of our tax dollars. The whole time Snyder was in office and even before him, (he was head of the MEDC) the MEDC says "they are a quasi-government agency and so do not have to make their budget public."
Why are we spending tax dollars on tourism, when the tourist industry should step-up and pay for it. After all the Michigan Chamber of Commerce says "Michigan tourism is way up" well, our schools, healthcare and roads suffer. Come on Mackinac Island, Detroit, Traverse City, sport teams, hotels, etc... step up, you have the money, stay out of our pockets.
And why should Michiganders have to listen (over & over) to Pure Michigan commercials, telling us we have a lovely state and should vacation here......DUH! I think most of know what a beautiful state we live in.

John Q. Public
Sat, 02/08/2020 - 12:03pm

This is a good example of why "get rid of waste and fraud" instead of "increase taxes" is a losing argument when government needs additional revenue. Wasteful government spending was smothered, and the politicians trample each other trying to be the first to resuscitate it.

Devil's Advocate
Mon, 02/10/2020 - 1:10am

"In the meantime, the Travel Michigan team will to work with our tourism and economic development partners across the state to position Michigan as a premier four-season travel destination and to share the quality of life Michigan has to offer,” McKinley said.

It's not just about tourism. It's about living in Michigan a place many young and old people have been leaving in droves. It's about instilling pride as a place to liver where others want to vacation. So it doesn't benefit only the tourism industry. It benefits all of us. With the goal being Pure Michigan tourism, we all benefit from a focus on a clean environment, great parks, woodlands, beaches, maintained roads, museums, etc. You have to clean up for company! Stop being so cheap! We have the money, we just want to hoard it. The problem is that Michigan has horrible public transportation and the feds have been destroying the middle class. It's too expensive for students and seniors to live here. The amount spent on Pure Michigan is a tiny part of the budget, but gives back a lot in intangibles, like state pride, something, otherwise, very lacking, when you see criminals who dump toxic green ooze on our highways and into our waters. Tourism as an industry is very important economically, but also as a focus for making this a great place to live, which in turn also stimulates the economy, win win. Oh and Middle of the Mitt, you still get your marijuana! Those taxes help defray expenses and give you such joy. LOL So just give those hungry northern Michigan republicans their Pure Michigan tax break! Everyone stop calling it a boondoggle.

middle of the mit
Tue, 02/11/2020 - 8:04pm

Isn't it funny how for decades Michigan has been very well known for being a 4 season tourist vacation spot around the country and world before Pure Michigan was even thought of?

If MI does have poor public transportation, how do you plan on paying for it and wouldn't the Pure MI campaign funds be better spent beefing up public transportation and roads so that when these tourists come here they think that we are willing to invest in our State and then that might give them the idea to move here?

And then the Chamber of Commerce can spend their funds promoting the businesses and areas around our State, while the taxpayer can invest in the State infrastructure, schools and colleges that would also give others a reason to move here? And if it is such a tiny amount, the Chamber should be well positioned to pay for something they will benefit from more while we spend our tax dollars on things to make the State more attractive?

And about "my" cannabis, why thank you for letting us keep that. The voters that passed that law appreciate your benevolence. And yes those taxes would help if the republicans hadn't shafted the industry and made it hard to set up business.

And you are the one that wants to keep the Pure Michigan campaign. How am I supposed to give the republicans up here a tax break on that if we keep spending the money for it?

Let business pay for it's own advertising and let the State spend it's money making the State better for those who live here, vacation here and may even one day move here.

It's called personal responsibility. Business has gotten a $2billion dollar a year tax cut for the last 9 years in MI and that doesn't count the Trump tax cuts.

They have the money.

Ace Brown
Wed, 05/27/2020 - 12:09pm

No one wants to come to Michigan right now. Leave it suspended for this year and look for funding for next year, in the meantime.