Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder Courts Asian Investment in Energy, Battery Development

Throughout his economic development trip to Asia, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has had an unlikely ally.

Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander.

The sure-fire Cy Young award winner isn’t actually traveling with the governor – he’s busy helping the Tigers contend for the American League pennant. But Snyder has been chatting about Verlander and his team’s success with his Japanese counterparts before meetings turn to the subject of bringing business investment to Michigan. He’s been giving gifts of Detroit Tigers hats.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder

“I presented several of them to different people today,” he tells MLive.com. “I gave one to the Japanese commissioner of baseball. And they love the Tigers. They know all about Verlander and how the season’s going.”

Will Snyder and his entourage find similar success on his overseas visit? The Detroit Free Press reports Wayne County officials are pitching a 1,000-acre site that straddles Plymouth and Northville ownships to battery suppliers in hopes of creating a “cluster of high-tech battery makers and suppliers” in western Wayne County.

“There’s a lot of emphasis this trip on battery development and energy,” Robert Ficano, the county’s CEO, told the newspaper.

Snyder sold the virtues of a revamped tax structure to his Japanese hosts on Sunday and Monday, saying it has made Michigan’s business climate friendlier to outside investment, and that a two-year balanced budget has increased the state’s fiscal stability.

“We have been busy reinventing Michigan, breaking some bad habits of the past and embracing new opportunities for our future,” he said in a written release. “We have come to open new doors for trade and business between our state and Japan. We see many great opportunities ahead for all of us to do more business together.”

His trip began Sunday, and includes stops in Japan, China and South Korea. On Monday morning, he said Japanese firms employ more than 32,000 Michiganders and that he’s intent on growing the relationships that create those jobs during the course of his visit.

This is his first official overseas visit as governor, but it’s hardly a new strategy in the Midwest. In June, Changing Gears reporter Dan Bobkoff examined Toledo, Ohio, and the efforts of the city’s leaders to court investments from China. Former Missouri Gov. Bob Holden is now chairman of the U.S. Midwest China Association, an advocacy group that believes in a regional approach to wooing Chinese business.

And under Ficaro, Wayne County, already operates four offices in China: Chonquing, Wohan, Nanjing and Beijing.

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