Democrat Virg Bernero took a swipe Thursday at his Republican opponent for Michigan governor, Rick Snyder, saying the Ann Arbor businessman who has portrayed himself as a creator of jobs "had a problem" because one of his former companies is leaving the state.
Medical devices manufacturer HandyLab plans to close its offices in Washtenaw County's Pittsfield Township and move around 50 jobs to Maryland, a move state Democrats say show Snyder isn't the job creator he claims to be.
Bernero, the mayor of Lansing, and Snyder spoke separately to reporters about HandyLab after addressing the Detroit Economic Club.
Snyder said he sold HandyLab over a year ago to Becton, Dickinson and Co., which is based in New Jersey. HandyLab was one of the companies Snyder's Ann Arbor venture capital firm Ardesta helped launch, and Snyder was the chairman of HandyLab when BD bought it last November for $275 million.
"We kept it in Michigan. It was doing well in Michigan," Snyder said. "It sounds like they are moving out of state now. But how much of that is a reflection of this government environment?"
Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer said HandyLab's defection is another example of Snyder benefiting from a company he headed while workers lost their jobs.
"He just had a problem where one of his companies is going out of state," Bernero said. "We need to grow Michigan and build on our strengths and also diversify and pull jobs in from wherever we can get them."
The Michigan Democratic State Central Committee has run ads criticizing Snyder for making millions of dollars in salary and from the sale of company stock while he was an executive in the 1990s at computer maker Gateway Inc. The ads note that, after Snyder left as Gateway president but while he was still on the board, the company sent most of its more than 10,000 jobs abroad. Snyder has said he opposed the outsourcing but wasn't in a position to stop it.
"Rick is trying to paint himself as a job creator when, in fact, he's a jobs killer," Brewer said in a statement. "Everything he touches he makes money while everyone else suffers. Those aren't the qualities Michigan voters are looking for in their next governor."
Bernero says he has brought 6,000 jobs to the Lansing area during his five years as mayor, although the Snyder campaign contends many of those projects already were in the pipeline when Bernero took office.
During the Detroit Economic Club event, Bernero and Snyder gave opening remarks before answering a series of questions sent in by the audience. Neither was on stage at the same time except when they shook hands at the event's conclusion.
They have agreed to only one debate, on Sunday in Wixom.