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Northern Mich. Republicans Concerned About Pure Michigan After Federal COVID Relief Money Dries Up

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by Kyle Davidson, Michigan Advance
August 2, 2023

State Rep. Ken Borton (R-Gaylord) and other Republican lawmakers sent a letter to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the chairs of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees on July 24, condemning cuts to the Pure Michigan campaign in the most recent state budget. 

According to an analysis from the House Fiscal Agency of the Fiscal Year 2024 budget Whitmer signed Monday, the state removed $15 million in one-time federal funding for the campaign from the American Rescue Plan Act — which was enacted during the COVID pandemic — that was included in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget. 

Alongside the $15 million in federal funding, the FY 2023 budget included $15 million from the General Fund, and $10 million from local and private funds for potential partnerships. The Fiscal Year 2024 budget, which goes into effect Oct. 1, provides the campaign with $15 million from the General Fund and $10 million in local and private funding options. 

Reps. Curt VanderWall (R-Ludington), John Roth (R-Interlochen), Cam Cavitt (R-Cheboygan) and Dave Prestin (R-Cedar River) co-signed on Borton’s letter, which shared concerns that northern Michigan’s tourism industry would suffer with less funding for the campaign. 

Rep. Ken Borton

“Pure Michigan has been a significant force in bolstering the state’s tourism industry and showcasing the unique beauty and attractions of Northern Michigan. By cutting funding for Pure Michigan, Northern Michigan will be especially devastated because of its heavy reliance on tourism,” Borton wrote.

Copies of the letter were sent to Whitmer, as well as the House Appropriations Committee Chair Angela Witwer (D-Delta Twp.) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing).

Anthony, Witwer and Borton could not be reached for comment.

When the Advance asked about Borton’s letter, Whitmer’s office responded with an emailed statement from Stacey LaRouche, Whitmer’s press secretary. 

“Governor Whitmer has been on a mission to make Michigan a top place to live, work, and play. That’s why she’s brought together lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to boost our state’s economic competitiveness, increase investment in our pure Michigan outdoor economy and tourism, and rebuild the infrastructure around our vibrant downtowns,” the statement said.

“This work is critical to land major events that drive tourism, like the 2024 NFL Draft, and can lead to worldwide recognition, like when Detroit was recently named TIME’s World’s Greatest Places of 2022. Governor Whitmer looks forward to continue making investments in our bustling downtowns and growing our state’s reputation as a place to be.”

The governor’s office said Pure Michigan would still run ads outside of the state. It also highlighted its $15 million Pure Opportunities marketing campaign through the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) which is focused on attracting people and businesses to the state. 

In his letter, Borton voiced concern that limited resources would lead to a less effective campaign.

Nick Nerbonne, media, digital and industry relations director for Travel Michigan, part of the MEDC that manages tourism and promotion, said the program works to maximize the funding available each year.

“We work with our agency partners to say ‘We want to reach travelers who are interested in visiting Michigan, let’s make sure we are in the most effective media, effective markets, to reach travelers who want to visit Michigan,’” Nerbonne said.

“We just work with what we have available to us, and that’s how we operate each year,” he said.

Michigan Economic Development Corp. | Susan J. Demas

Additionally, there are other budget items that provide support for the industry that aren’t included as line items under Pure Michigan, Nerbonne said.

“For example, there’s $10 million to support convention and business bureaus across the state. There are special funding for events and other facilities that bring tourists from across the country and around the world to various locations in Michigan,” Nerbonne said. “There’s even $100 million in grant funding for infrastructure that talks about enhancements to convention centers, museums, performing arts venues.”

“Michigan’s tourism industry is the best in America, and people travel from all over the world to visit here. And the industry is being supported on a bunch of different levels here. So it’s not just the advertising, the infrastructure, it’s the venues and the locations and then also there’s money in the budget to attract special events,” Nerbonne said. 

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Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

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