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Clara Hendrickson
By Clara Hendrickson July 1, 2022

Whitmer touts growth in auto industry, but jobs data doesn't show that

If Your Time is short

  • Whitmer’s office pointed to state deals with automakers and suppliers that have collectively vowed to create more than 25,000 jobs. 

  • Not all of those jobs currently exist. At least one requires breaking ground on a brand new General Motors Co. facility. 

  • The state has not seen a net gain of 25,000 jobs since Whitmer took office. Data shows Michigan’s auto industry is still recovering from the massive job losses suffered during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has made economic development in the state a key focus as she hits the campaign trail to seek a second term. In her bid for reelection, she has zeroed in on Michigan’s auto industry specifically, claiming she has overseen the addition of tens of thousands of new jobs over the last few years.

"Since I took office, Michigan has added more than 25,000 auto jobs," Whitmer wrote in a June 8 tweet. She has made similar statements in the past. In a June 2 tweet, she appeared to take credit for the growth she claims occurred since her tenure as governor began.

"I'm thrilled about @Ford's $2 billion investment to create 3,200 good-paying auto jobs — add this to the nearly 25,000 auto jobs we've created!" Whitmer tweeted the day the automaker announced plans to add jobs supported by the state’s economic development fund. Republicans hoping to unseat Whitmer have pushed back against the claim.

Publicly available employment data does not show that Michigan has gained 25,000 additional jobs in the auto industry since January 2019 when Whitmer entered office. Whitmer spokesperson Bobby Leddy wrote in an email that the jobs figure from the governor is "a conservative estimate" of the jobs auto manufacturers and suppliers have announced since 2019 as part of auto manufacturing expansions supported by the state.

Leddy and Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) spokesperson Otie McKinley provided a list of dozens of companies that have collectively promised to create more than 25,000 jobs in Michigan’s auto industry in exchange for hundreds of millions in tax relief and government grants.

Many of those jobs have already been created and currently employ people, Leddy wrote. But the number of auto jobs Whitmer touts also includes thousands that do not currently exist. Those promised by GM, for instance, will require breaking ground on a new plant, Leddy wrote.

"Governor Whitmer is proud of her record of job creation, particularly in the auto industry, as we move to cement Michigan’s legacy of manufacturing," Leddy said in a statement.

It is unclear how far along the companies are in their promise to create the jobs they’ve committed to add to the state’s economy.

MEDC "does not have a real-time account as to the exact number of jobs that have been created by each individual company," McKinley wrote in an email. Each company must submit reports of the new jobs it creates based on a previously agreed upon reporting schedule, he said. 

Jobs are created and destroyed all the time in the auto industry as companies hire or lay off workers and open or close plants.

That’s why many look to net employment numbers in an industry over time to determine whether a state has created more jobs than it’s lost, said Brad Hershbein, a senior economist and the deputy director of research at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. "So how many more jobs do we have now than we did before?" Hershbein said.

Using that measure, Whitmer’s claim that Michigan has added more than 25,000 new auto jobs isn’t borne out by employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The number of auto jobs in Michigan as of May 2022 — the most recently available data — was slightly lower than it was in January 2019 when Whitmer took office.

Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data in the transportation equipment manufacturing industry is the best way to analyze auto job growth in the state during that time period, according to Wayne Rourke, the associate director of Michigan’s Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives.

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It’s a broad category that encompasses manufacturing outside the auto industry, including aerospace, railroad and ship manufacturing. But the vast majority — about 90% — of the transportation equipment manufacturing industry jobs are within the motor vehicle and motor vehicle parts manufacturing sectors.

The bigger transportation equipment manufacturing category allows for easy comparisons of job numbers between two different time periods since Michigan’s labor market information bureau publishes adjusted data that accounts for fluctuation in the job numbers resulting from typical seasonal variation in an industry.

When Whitmer entered office in 2019, there were 187,890 jobs in transportation equipment manufacturing, according to seasonally adjusted data published by the bureau. In May 2022, there were 184,500 jobs in the sector, a decline of 3,390 jobs.

Comparing each month’s employment data in the motor vehicle and motor vehicle parts manufacturing sectors across years shows that employment in the auto industry took a huge hit during the COVID-19 pandemic but has essentially returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Hershbein said it was "a little bit misleading" to refer to jobs expected in the future as those that the state has already added or created.

"Claims about what could happen in the future should always be taken with a fair amount of salt, and this is long true in the economic development world where we give incentives to businesses to create jobs and they don’t always end up doing that," Hershbein said. "It’s nice that the jobs are announced. It’s certainly better than not having jobs announced. But in terms of people’s standards and well-being, we have to see those jobs actually materialize."

Hershbein also said that the general climate of economic uncertainty casts a bit of a cloud over state deals with auto manufacturers. "There’s still a possibility that the economy could go into a recession," he said. "If that were to happen would they still go forward with their plans? Would they scale it down? Would they postpone them? A lot could still happen."

MEDC requires companies to fulfill their job creation commitments to receive state support, McKinley wrote in an email. Funding isn’t provided to companies that don’t create the jobs they’ve promised, he said.

"I have a high level of confidence that any job promised by a company signing one of these contracts will fulfill their obligations," said Mike Johnston, the vice president of government affairs for the Michigan Manufacturers Association. He acknowledged that Whitmer’s claim is not borne out in the most recently available Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data, but said that it provides an accurate picture of where the state’s auto industry is heading.

"If anybody looking at the economy doesn’t look at the future of the economy, they’re looking too short-sighted," he said. "Any snapshot on the economy has to come in the context of where the economy is going and Michigan — in particular the manufacturing sector — is looking very positive."

Bernard Swiecki, the director of research at the independent Center for Automotive Research, said that he wouldn’t call Whitmer’s statement misleading.

"It’s positively oriented, but it’s not out of whack with standard industry practice. When states and communities announce these things, they do focus on the new creation," he said.

"It’s not like it’s a made up number," he said. But when someone sees it, they might think Whitmer is referring to a net gain in jobs since she entered office. "And that’s not what it really is. So basically, it’s a number that needs context."

Our ruling

Whitmer claimed that since she entered office, "Michigan has added more than 25,000 auto jobs." Her number refers to jobs automakers and suppliers have created, but it also includes jobs they have committed to add in exchange for state support that don’t currently exist.

Current employment data does not show that Michigan has gained 25,000 jobs since January 2019, when Whitmer took office. Whitmer is referring to jobs promised through state deals over the last few years. But the claim ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. Thousands of those jobs haven’t been created yet, and employment data shows those added haven’t made up for job losses in Michigan’s auto industry.

We rate it Mostly False.

Our Sources

Michigan Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives, Current Employment Statistics, accessed 6/30/22  

Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Michigan Strategic Fund, accessed 6/30/22

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, tweet, 6/8/22

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, tweet, 6/2/22

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, "Ford to Invest Two Billion to Create New Manufacturing Jobs in Michigan," press release, 6/2/22

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, "Whitmer Announces Pfizer to Invest Millions Produce COVID-19 Treatment in Kalamazoo," 6/6/22

Wayne Rourke, Associate Director of the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives at the Department of Technology, Management & Budget, 6/22/22 email

Bobby Leddy, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer spokesperson, 6/22/22 email

Brad Hershbein, Senior Economist and Deputy Director of Research at W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, 6/22/22 email and 6/23/22 phone call

Mike Johnston, Vice President of Government Affairs, Michigan Manufacturers Association, 6/22/22

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Seasonal Adjustment, accessed 6/23/22

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Transportation Equipment Manufacturing: NAICS 336, accessed 6/23/22

NAICS Association, Motor vehicle manufacturing, accessed 6/30/22

NAICS Association, Motor vehicle parts manufacturing, accessed 6/30/22

Otie McKinley, media and communications manager, Michigan Economic Development Corporation & Travel Michigan, email, 6/22/22 and 6/29/22

Bernard Swiecki, Director of the Automotive Communities Partnership (ACP) and Director, Research at Center for Automotive Research, phone interview, 6/24/22

Bureau of Labor Statistics, motor vehicle manufacturing employment data, accessed 6/30/22

Bureau of Labor Statistics, motor vehicle parts manufacturing, accessed 6/30/22

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Press Office, email, 6/24/22

Michigan Economic Development Corporation, "Generational investment of $4.5 billion by Fiat Chrysler signals strong bet on Michigan’s workforce and automotive leadership," 5/21/19

Michigan Economic Development Corporation, "Gov. Whitmer Secures Historic $7 Billion Investment by GM to Create Thousands of Manufacturing Jobs, Making Michigan a Home for Company’s Electric Vehicle Future," 1/25/22

Michigan Economic Development Corporation, "Gov. Whitmer Announces 1,200 New Jobs Resulting from LG Energy Solution’s $1.7 billion Investment and Expansion in Holland," 3/22/22

Michigan Economic Development Corporation, "Whitmer: Magna’s investment in Highland Park creating 480 jobs, helping drive economic recovery in Michigan," 6/23/20

Michigan Economic Development Corporation, "MSF approves programs expansions; business investment and community development projects bring new growth, jobs to Michigan," 4/23/19

Michigan Economic Development Corporation, "Tier 1 auto supplier expansion, community revitalization efforts position Michigan for future prosperity," 7/28/20

Michigan Economic Development Corporation, "Business expansions, community revitalization projects will spur economic growth, extend Michigan’s leadership in automotive manufacturing and future mobility solutions," 1/22/20

Michigan Economic Development Corporation, "Gov. Whitmer Announces Approval of Multiple Projects Creating Over 390 Good-Paying Jobs and Economic Opportunities," 2/22/22

Michigan Economic Development Corporation, "Whitmer: Magna’s investment in St. Clair creating more than 300 jobs, strengthening Michigan as leader in EV manufacturing," 2/23/22

Michigan Economic Development Corporation, "Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announces 245 manufacturing jobs with Tier 1 auto supplier in Southeast Michigan," 6/17/21

Michigan Economic Development Corporation, "High-tech, manufacturing growth in Detroit, new community revitalization efforts continue Michigan’s economic recovery," 8/25/20

Michigan Economic Development Corporation, "Business expansions, community revitalization projects around Michigan attract $235 million in investment, support creation of 554 jobs," 6/25/19

Michigan Economic Development Corporation, "Gov. Whitmer: Ford to Invest $2 Billion to Create More than 3,200 New Manufacturing Jobs, Secure Critical EV Production in Michigan," 6/2/22

Michigan Economic Development Corporation, "Ford Motor Company investment in Michigan creating 3,000 jobs and extending state’s leadership in design and production of autonomous and electric vehicles," 12/17/19

Michigan Economic Development Corporation, "Governor Whitmer on GM’s Latest Investment to Develop Next-Generation Battery Facility in Michigan," 10/5/21

Lansing State Journal, "GM, partners bringing $2.5 billion battery cell manufacturing facility to Lansing area," 1/25/22

The Detroit Free Press, "Michigan Senate approves $100 million incentive for Ford, clearing last legislative hurdle," 6/23/22

Michigan GOP Twitter, tweet, 6/27/22

Kevin Rinke Twitter, tweet, 6/21/22

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Whitmer touts growth in auto industry, but jobs data doesn't show that

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