News Story

‘Upper Hand’ Michigan Economy Not Enough to Help Jeff Daniels’ Theatre

In 2008, Hollywood actor and Michigan native Jeff Daniels was put at the center of a $40 million business development and marketing campaign put on by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. The state government agency charged with giving out discriminatory tax advantages to a few favored businesses promoted Michigan “as a place to do business,” and said that the MEDC could give the “upper hand” to those seeking its help.

But while the MEDC trumpeted the advertisement’s ability to win awards in 2008, Michigan’s unemployment rate during that year shot up from 7.1 percent in January to 10.6 percent in December. And Daniels’ Purple Rose Theatre was en route to losing $193,556 that year, according to tax documents that the nonprofit submitted to the IRS.

In the press release announcing the awards that the Daniels ads collected, the MEDC touted the state’s “competitive business environment.” However, this week the Jackson Citizen Patriot reported that Daniels’ theatre company would be laying off three full-time employees, including Alan Ribant, the managing director. Daniels is listed as the executive director. According to documents filed by the IRS, the Purple Rose Theatre lost another $64,940 in 2009, the last year that paperwork is available.

Guy Sanville, the artistic director at the Purple Rose Theatre, confirmed the layoffs in an email.

“Like all businesses in Michigan, we are taking steps to ensure a long and healthy future for the Purple Rose,” Sanville wrote. “The 3 employees were full time and their duties will be absorbed by others currently on staff. The employees are moving on to other opportunities.”

Michael LaFaive, director of the Mackinac Center’s Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative, was critical of the advertising campaign back in 2009, saying that sound public tax policy, not Hollywood glitz, is what attracts business. 

Even Daniels’ venture is not immune to what businesses across the state have endured under the tax policies of the last decade, LaFaive said.

“It’s mostly a symbolic reference point in Michigan’s sad history of corporate welfare and discriminatory tax policy,” LaFaive said. “For the last 10 or more years, we’ve made it more expensive — not less — to invest in Michigan, to create jobs in Michigan, to expand payrolls in Michigan and to raise families in Michigan. It’s no wonder that so many of our people have fled to greener pastures. No amount of charming ads will swamp that outbound traffic. Every family that leaves our state for a job elsewhere is our own advertisement.”


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