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Ahead of the Curve Auto Supplier Blog

June 01, 2015

Mackinac Policy Conference Stoked Optimism about Michigan’s Economic Future

The 2015 Mackinac Policy Conference, which wrapped up last week, was the best I’ve ever attended and it provided many reasons to be excited about the future of Michigan and the automotive industry. Here are my major takeaways from the conference:
  • After decades of economic decline, Detroit has turned the corner. The Motor City is loaded with opportunity but it needs leadership, cooperation and hard work at all levels to prevent a repeat of its recent troubles. The days of political in-fighting and stonewalling must end – political foes must learn to cooperate and work together for the common good. The nuts and bolts of the bankruptcy have been positively addressed, but it will take even more cooperation at all levels of government to make sure that it never happens again.
  • As a co-founder of MICHauto, one of the conference highlights for me was the announcement of the Michigan Mobility Initiative by MICHauto and a coalition of leading business, automotive and university stakeholders.  This initiative is an aggressive program to promote Michigan’s leadership in next generation mobility development.  Michigan is at the forefront of connected vehicle development, and it’s absolutely critical that we do everything in our power to make that message heard and to lure new high tech auto companies and jobs to our state. 
  • I was particularly impressed by Ford Foundation President Darren Walker’s enthusiasm for the Detroit story.  He said that the narrative about the city is changing and that everyone in America is pulling for Detroit’s success. He suggested that “there’s no place in America to be more hopeful about than Detroit.” I was personally delighted to hear his announcement that for the first time since Henry Ford II moved the Ford Foundation to New York in 1948, the organization will hold its Board of Trustees meeting in Detroit this month.
  • Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford, a longtime leader in the green movement and the whole auto mobility issue, made it clear that Ford Motor Company wants to be at the forefront in alternative transportation systems and autonomous vehicles. Ford said his entire management team is on board and he assumes he’d find the same thing at his cross town rivals.  He believes that with the push to alternative vehicles, the domestic industry – and the state of Michigan – are poised for the greatest potential spurt of invention, innovation and growth since the period of 1903 to 1928, when Detroit was bursting at the seams with new companies and new products.
  • Michigan is on the precipice of potentially explosive growth and opportunity, but we’re only going to realize this opportunity if everybody plays nice and works together. Without real cohesion between the industry, the government, and our research universities to aggressively attract the new companies and new jobs, somebody else is going to get them. That’s why all the talk I’m hearing about eliminating or downsizing the Michigan Economic Development Corp. is so concerning. There are factions in the state House of Representatives that would like to see the MEDC dissolved and its operating funds used elsewhere – for roads or schools or somewhere else that legitimately needs funding.  But not now, please!  Not when the industry is at the brink of opportunity and we need all hands on deck. Alternative transportation and autonomous vehicle development are two of the brightest spots in Michigan’s future. We cannot squander this opportunity.
The recurrent themes at the 2015 Mackinac Policy Conference were: Work hard, work together, cooperate with your competitors and get something done. That message was loud and clear – and consistent.  It was aimed at everybody in the audience, but somehow it felt to me like the politicians were the real focus. Let’s hope they’re listening.

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