When you read in the New York Times that the governor of Michigan is aggressively courting a Japanese auto manufacturer to invest production and jobs in the Great Lakes State, you know the world is changing. For those who aren’t aware, such an action not long ago would have been like touching the third rail of Michigan politics (and still seems far from perfectly safe). Yet while the economy is recovering well across most of the United States, the land of my childhood lags behind in employment and other key indicators.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s efforts to woo Toyota are a healthy sign for the future economy and quality of life of Michigan residents. The Big Three aren’t quite able to protect their turf like they once did, and should welcome the benefits of increased competition on a global scale. (For a broader sense of the changing trends from the big corporate safety net to the hardening pressures of economic competition, there is an excellent chapter in a book I highly recommend: Michael Barone’s Hard America, Soft America.)
In a global economy so fluid and dynamic, the presence of a Japanese auto plant in Michigan seems somehow inevitable. Yet economic decisions merge and interact with political and cultural realities all the time. Now at last, it seems politically feasible for a sitting governor to court Toyota. And culturally, I suspect, more and more Michiganders are willing to forego the sort of blue-collar, chauvinistic pride that made possible many jokes I heard in my younger days. Such as… you know you’re from Michigan when “owning a Japanese car is a hanging offense in your hometown,” or some such variation. Here’s to better days!
Disclaimer: This post was written by a man who has only ever owned & driven General Motors vehicles; whose father & grandfather were employed by General Motors; who knows far too many jokes and insults about Fords and foreign cars; who only ever remembers seeing, riding in, and hearing about General Motors vehicles that belonged to the family; and who still is eligible for the General Motors employee vehicle discount pricing.