Jim McBryde, the legislative liaison for the Michigan Economic Development Corp., told the House Tourism Committee on Thursday that the MEDC took no position on right to work.
“But the Legislature passed it, and it’s now part of the new business climate in the state. It made sense to let people know about it,” he said. “There was tremendous reaction on both sides, and any further advertising on that issue has been put on hold.”
The ad ran in the Wall Street Journal and several site selection magazines in January, and was geared toward corporations looking for places to locate business. It cost the MEDC $144,000.
The outrage was immediate from Democrats and organized labor who vehemently oppose right to work. And hundreds of comments — virtually all critical — appeared on the Pure Michigan Facebook fan page. Most commenters said the controversial issue had no place on the same page as the beloved Pure Michigan campaign, which is associated with beautiful images of the state’s pristine lakes, mountains and vistas.
“Everything you’ve done with tourism has been positive,” state Rep. Charles Brunner, D-Bay City, said Thursday. “We have enough good stuff in Michigan, and those are the things that should be emphasized, and not something divisive that could hurt that brand.”
Right-to-work legislation, which makes it illegal to require a financial contribution to a union as a condition of employment, passed in the final frenzied days of the Legislature’s lame duck session in December. The issue attracted 12,000 protesters to the state Capitol the day it received final passage and was signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, just five days after it was introduced in the Legislature.
The right-to-work ad discussion came up in the House tourism committee meeting following a presentation on how successful the Pure Michigan campaign — using the soothing voice of Michigan-born actor Tim Allen — has been since it was introduced in 2006.
George Zimmerman, director of Travel Michigan, said that “2012 was a great year for the industry. It’s our best year on record since 2004.”
Although final data for 2012 will not be available until April, preliminary estimates show tourists spent $17.7 billion in the state — almost all were leisure travelers from out of state.
The Pure Michigan budget is $25 million, and the state is gearing up for a $13-million cable television advertising buy that will run across the nation from March through June, officials said. Next year, Snyder has budgeted an additional $4 million for Pure Michigan so the tourism campaign can go international, tapping the expensive Toronto market, as well as Asia.
“The campaign really impacts attitudes about Michigan,” Zimmerman said, noting that anything that boosts the state’s image is a positive.