Now That the Factories Are Closed, It’s Tee Time in Benton Harbor, Mich. - NYTimes.com
All over Michigan, counties are scrambling to find ways to reinvent their outdated economies. Two recurring themes in this effort have been attracting tourism and retaining corporations. Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, a former venture capitalist, recently signed an overhaul of the state tax code that cuts business taxes by $1.7 billion, while committing $25 million to the “Pure Michigan” advertising campaign, which features local celebrities like Tim Allen urging people to visit the state. In this context, the goings-on in Benton Harbor make a certain kind of sense — not just Harbor Shores, which was intended to lure weekenders from Chicago, roughly two hours away by car, but the other major construction project under way in town: a new, heavily tax-incentivized, $68 million, 270,000-square-foot corporate campus for Whirlpool. The juxtaposition of Benton Harbor’s impoverished population and its two rising monuments to wealth — all wedged into a little more than four square miles — make it almost a caricature of economic disparity in America. But at the same time, it offers a window into one possible future for towns across the country, places that can no longer support their own economies or take care of their citizens and may ultimately have no choice but to turn their fate over to private industry and nonprofits. The way things are going, more and more states may start to look like Michigan, and more and more towns may start to look like Benton Harbor.
The general idea is that public local governments get so impoverished due to loss of their tax base that they give suicidal tax breaks to corporate overlords who build playgrounds for the rich, all in the hope of attracting tourists who will buy stuff in town.