Politicians love to say they’re “business-friendly.” But what does that actually mean? | Michigan Radio

Politicians love to say they’re “business-friendly.” But what does that actually mean?

Feb 11, 2019

We often hear politicians use buzzwords: things like “media elite,” “fake news,” and “welfare state.”

Some of those seem straightforward enough. Others, not so much.

One Michigan Radio listener, Ellen Rusten, had a question about a phrase you’ve probably heard come out of a politician's mouth: "business-friendly." Rusten wanted to know, just what does that popular buzzword actually mean?

We've reached out to business owners and leaders around the state to get their answer. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing those conversations with you to get a better idea of “business-friendly” really means in Michigan.

Where did it come from? 

Let’s start by figuring out where the phrase "business-friendly" actually came from in the first place. To do that, we talked to Anne Curzan, Michigan Radio’s linguistics expert, and a University of Michigan professor of English, Linguistics, and Education.

Curzan says the phrase business-friendly started to pick up steam during the 1990s, along with linguistic cousins like “family-friendly” or “eco-friendly.” But the very first citing of it came much earlier: in 1948, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

The simple definition of the term is something, or someone, that’s favorable to business concerns. But, Curzan notes, its real world definition tends to vary according to your politics. For some, it might mean low taxes and fewer regulations. And on the other hand:

“Some of the cynical folks will say – if we’re talking about a politician or a legislator – if you say they’re business-friendly, what that really means is they will follow corporate lobbyists,” Curzan said.

Listen to the conversation above to hear Curzan talk about why politicians love vague buzzwords, and how they act as a linguistic fashion trend.

Do big and small companies get same benefits from “business-friendly” policies?

Does the definition of "business-friendly" depend on the size of your business?

How does the number of people you employ or the amount of revenue you bring change the benefits you get from “business-friendly” policies?

To try to answer those questions, we turned to Rob Fowler, CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan, and Doug Rothwell, president and CEO of Business Leaders of Michigan.

Both say that the state has made great strides in the last decade when it comes to being more “business-friendly.” Fowler cites lower business taxes and regulatory reforms as major helpers for small businesses.

But Rothwell says that despite these notable improvements, Michigan's reputation nationally still needs some work.

Listen to the full conversation above. 

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