Casperson wants special incentive zones for weapons makers

MARQUETTE – A Michigan state senator from the Upper Peninsula is proposing special incentive zones for weapon manufacturers that relocate to the state.

Under the bill proposed last month by State Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, up to five renaissance zones would be created throughout the state for the purpose of weapon manufacturing. The zones would be designated by the board of the Michigan Strategic Fund.

Casperson said he decided to draft the bill – Michigan Senate Bill 430 – after recent laws in other parts of the nation made it tougher for weapon manufacturers.

“Officials in some states are pushing unfriendly and in many cases unnecessary policies that are providing real incentive to arms manufacturers to relocate,” Casperson said in a written statement. “The companies provide many good jobs and valuable economic activity for the communities where they are located, so we’re saying that Michigan embraces the Second Amendment and it is open for business, so please come to Michigan.”

Casperson hopes the arms-related manufacturing zones would draw manufacturers to the state largely through tax incentives.

Casperson spokesman Marty Fittante said other states are trying to “court” gun manufacturers but that he is unaware of similar incentive zones being established elsewhere.

While the legislation doesn’t specifically designate where in the state the zones can be established, Fittante said Casperson would like to see some in the U.P. There was no way, he said, to give the northern portions of the state an advantage over other areas, legislatively.

“But obviously, from Tom’s perspective, we would love to have them locate in the Upper Peninsula,” Fittante said.

Fittante said the relocation process is complicated for a weapons manufacturer and said many of the companies are “weighing their options.”

According to Fittante, Casperson has been in touch with at least three companies – one showed a high level of interest in the state, he said – and asked them to keep an open dialogue with his office.

“We kind of invited them to continue to have a dialogue as the bill moves to kind of say, ‘What else can we do with the bill to make it maybe more attractive for you to consider Michigan?'” he said.

The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Economic Development.

According to Fittante, the process should move quickly, as State Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, who chairs that committee, was receptive to getting the bill to the floor in a timely manner.

Kowall is also a co-sponsor of the legislation.

But beyond the Senate, in which Republicans hold 26 of 38 seats, the bill may face some opposition.

Though Republicans hold a slight advantage in the State House, Fittante noted that Gov. Rick Snyder has shied away from incentive-based economic development programs – what he calls “picking winners and losers.”

“We know that this is kind of pushing up against that, but I think from Tom’s perspective he feels that this is significant enough that maybe (Snyder) will make an exception in this case,” Fittante said.

A spokesman from Snyder’s office said it was early in the legislative process and that the governor has not taken a stand on the bill.

Snyder Press Secretary Sara Wurfel echoed those comments.

“Our strategy centers on creating a climate where all businesses can thrive and a place where everyone will want to live, work, do business and play,” she wrote in an email. “We will continue to do everything we can to help create more and better jobs.”

Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.