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Posted on Wed, Jan 19, 2011 : 10:28 p.m.

Immigration emerges as an issue in Rick Snyder's State of the State

By Nathan Bomey

Gov. Rick Snyder said tonight that foreign immigrants with advanced college degrees should be welcomed into Michigan — part of a broader strategy he believes is critical to revitalizing the state’s economy.

Snyder, a Republican, said during his first State of the State address he has asked the Michigan Department of Civil Rights to partner with the Michigan Economic Development Corp. to launch an “an exciting new initiative to encourage immigrants with advanced college degrees to come to Michigan to live and work.”


Gov. Rick Snyder speaks during the State of the State address.

Melanie Maxwell |

The announcement marks the re-emergence of immigration as a statewide issue in Michigan. The issue, although a hot-button topic in many other states, was barely mentioned during Michigan’s gubernatorial campaign.

But Snyder suggested that talented foreign workers have a place in Michigan’s economic renewal. He mentioned an oft-cited fact that half of Silicon Valley startups are founded by immigrants.

“We need to be a place that openly encourages innovators and entrepreneurs that come to our state. The evidence is clear that advanced college degree immigrants can make a tremendous difference in creating a positive economic activity environment,” Snyder said. “Immigration made us a great state and country. It is a time to embrace this concept again as a way to speed our reinvention.”

Snyder’s proposal was greeted positively — albeit not enthusiastically — by state legislators.

In some political circles, embracing foreign immigration is viewed as politically dangerous because critics believe immigrants take away jobs from Americans.

Asked whether he liked Snyder’s proposal, Republican Speaker of the House Jase Bolger responded, “Certainly.”

“We have to look at everything that can make Michigan a more competitive place to provide a job for our citizens,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, said she supported the idea, too.

“It’s hard to disagree with legal immigrants coming to Michigan and starting up businesses,” she said. “So I think that was an interesting angle to include in the speech tonight. I have a hard time imagining anyone who would find fault with that.”

In 2007, Snyder led an initiative at Ann Arbor SPARK to lobby Michigan's Congressional delegation to seek federal changes allowing more talented immigrant workers to come into the U.S.

The group was initially formed as a response to Pfizer's decision to shutter its 2 million-square-foot Ann Arbor operation, displacing more than 2,100 workers — including many immigrants. The initiative never got much traction, due in part to the political stalemate on immigration in Washington.

Snyder said at the time an influx of talented foreign immigrants could boost the economy.

"If you look at what they're contributing to the country as a whole, it's a huge amount," Snyder said then. "We just don't market ourselves well, and we don't do a good job presenting ourselves to people as a place to come to" for foreign talent.

After Snyder's State of the State speech tonight, former SPARK CEO Michael Finney, now the MEDC CEO, said his agency would play a role in trying to attract talented foreign immigrants to Michigan.

"Our country was built on successful immigrants," Finney said. "It only seems logical that we would continue to look to immigrants, particularly those that are receiving the advanced degrees at our wonderful educational institutions — we should look to them to be entrepreneurs, to be resources in our state, instead of requiring them to leave our country upon graduation."

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's newsletters.



Thu, Jan 20, 2011 : 5:45 p.m.

Michigan is ranked 39th out of 50 for granted bachelor' degrees. It will take a generation to turn this around. Converting millwrights to mechanical engineers or composters to computer engineers will not happen. Michigan is in desperate need for highly educated people to keep high-tech and/or the auto industry healthy and viable.


Thu, Jan 20, 2011 : 4:16 p.m.

There is nothing wrong with a hard working educated naturalized or Green Carded worker paying taxes in Michigan. There is a huge shortage of engineers and scientists in the USA. (engineering and science are difficult majors) For America to be on the cutting edge of technology we need smart people. I don't see the difference between an American born in America or a naturalized American, they are both Americans.


Thu, Jan 20, 2011 : 4:12 p.m.

It appears that as soon as the word 'immigrant' is used in a story, people get defensive, stop reading what was actually in the story, and fall back to the current Republican/TeaParty slamfest. Bill Sloan is absolutely correct. The Governor has not said we should exclusively use immigrant entrepreneurs to kick start and diversify our economy, nor that American workers are sub-par, that is something that you have put on yourselves. I would guess that the average out of work Michigan white or blue collar worker doesn't fit the description of entrepreneur, but they would probably love to go to work for one if they can get something started.


Thu, Jan 20, 2011 : 3:59 p.m.

Perhaps it would behoove us all to take a deep breath, step back and try? Nothing else is working, right? Our industry in Michigan needs fresh air. Most unemployed are not people with Masters or PhDs. Be real we need help. I don't see how bringing skilled workers into our local and state economy makes Snyder a puppet. Just because he is a republican? What does he stand to gain if it fails? How about putting politics aside and thinking about how to move our outdated workforce forward? In case you need a reminder on how bad it really is, take a drive e.g., north, Flint and higher. The poverty is overwhelming. Or just go to Detroit. Leave Washtenaw or Oakland and Michigan is a scary place. We don't have time to mudsling. And for the record: I am a card carrying democrat who voted for Snyder.


Thu, Jan 20, 2011 : 3:18 p.m.

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Thu, Jan 20, 2011 : 2:21 p.m.

snehall Not just workers cheap educated workers like they got at amway.


Thu, Jan 20, 2011 : 2:11 p.m.

&quot;Foreign immigrants.&quot; Are there other types?

David Briegel

Fri, Jan 21, 2011 : 9:41 p.m.

Paul, You are a real wordsmith!


Thu, Jan 20, 2011 : 2:04 p.m.

I am apalled by this staement made by Mr Snyder. This is so not true. Yes, Silicon Valley was developed by immigrants, but almost everyone of them had advanced degree from University of AMERICA not any other country. Second, statistics have shown that H1B VISA is the most abused VISA of all times. We have so many people with fake degrees, fake resumes and fake experiences that USCIS had to start a campaign to weed them out. To rely on immigrants to solve MIchigan problem is a direct slap in the face of Michigan, as people like me understand that we are nothing but stupid and lazy people who cannot do anything insptie of University of Michigan and other great Universities right in our state. Why can't Michigan create entrepreneurs or leaders? Why do we have to import them? Looks like all you want from Michigan are workers (American dream huh?).


Thu, Jan 20, 2011 : 1:54 p.m.

Re- Breigle and Loopy. The economy is a tad bigger than your back yard lads....The innovative startups will most likely hire your well educated kids. Lots of exciting stuff out there to get involved with...lower your salary expectations until you gain experience - start competing.


Thu, Jan 20, 2011 : 1:44 p.m.

Unbelievable. Mr. CEO knows full well that those high priced foreign immigrants work for thousands less than Americans in those positions. Those immigrants aren't better than our employees, they are cheaper. Shame on Rick Snyder, in this economy, in this state, at this time in our history to come up with such a corporate sweetheart stand.


Thu, Jan 20, 2011 : 1:41 p.m.

It seems to me that leadership with advanced degrees led us into this mess. Publically saying that one group is more desireable than another is just plain devisive. As far as the rest of the speech, just corporate babel.

Bill Sloan

Thu, Jan 20, 2011 : 12:56 p.m.

Sorry, should be &quot;huge,&quot; of course.

Bill Sloan

Thu, Jan 20, 2011 : 12:54 p.m.

Governor Snyder didn't say anything about NOT encouraging Michigan graduates and other creative entrepreneurs from Michigan. He did say that Michigan needs all of these kinds of people that we can get, whether they be home-grown and educated or foreign. I don't believe that any &quot;middle class, blue collar,&quot; person who can acquire the skills that Michigan needs in todays work climate would be turned away. Quite the contrary, there are several programs available through which underskilled people can become more employable. Check out the hugh enrollment in such programs at all of Michigan's Community Colleges, and elsewhere.


Thu, Jan 20, 2011 : 12:15 p.m.

hope those blue collar middle class workers can afford the snyder pay cuts and pension and benefit reductions that are coming. Virg would not try to balance the budget on the working and blue collar workers.


Thu, Jan 20, 2011 : 12:12 p.m.

I agree with loopy this guy might be a nerd just not a smart one,probably could be someone's puppet


Thu, Jan 20, 2011 : 7:05 a.m.

That's fine.. they'll just get their green cards held hostage by the employer.. yea come on over Mr. PhD and Mr. Engineer.. come on... Oh and Rick and friends.. who's going to pick and sort your tomato's apples, cherries and beans next summer?..... any clues where they'll be fitting into your immigrant plan?


Thu, Jan 20, 2011 : 6:50 a.m.

I worked at Pfizer for 12 years . . . it's closing had nothing to do with immigrants . . . highly educated or not. To imply a great part of the work force were educated immigrants is, in fact, untrue. There was a Canadian and a couple Brits . . . not too many more. After all, it is Pfizer Global Research and they have facilities all over the planet, they do not need to shuffle them into the US. Highly educated immigrants come from rich families and DO take our jobs. Money can buy you anything including legitimacy in a foreign country. Its only fair if our children who score high on tests, and put in the time, should be given a fast track through college to compete with the rich.

bone roller

Thu, Jan 20, 2011 : 6:31 a.m.

in my opinion he's just another puppet.. we will see i think that we can only go up from here.


Thu, Jan 20, 2011 : 4:35 a.m.

&quot;Snyder, a Republican, said during his first State of the State address he has asked the Michigan Department of Civil Rights to partner with the Michigan Economic Development Corp. to launch an "an exciting new initiative to encourage immigrants with advanced college degrees to come to Michigan to live and work." So the thousands and thousands of laid-off educated workers and college graduates in Michigan aren't good enough? Or is it that they're not cheap enough? I can't wait for the buyer's remorse to set in on those who elected this guy.

John Q

Thu, Jan 20, 2011 : 4:23 a.m.

Wait until the Tea Partiers get a hold of this. I expect this will be the last we hear of this idea from Snyder.

David Briegel

Thu, Jan 20, 2011 : 4:06 a.m.

Sure beats growing our own right here in Michigan and educating them right here in Michigan eh Rick?! And maybe we could encourage our kids to emigrate to those third world and Communist countries where American Fortune 500 Corporations find the cheap labor you desire here!? A win-win for all! You Be The Best!!