There was plenty to talk about last Thursday night for the more than 150 Warner Norcross guests who braved the cold weather (and potholes!) to attend the Macomb Automotive Suppliers Forum led by a keynote discussion by Nigel Francis, MEDC’s senior automotive advisor, who spoke about collaborative efforts within the sate to retain and grow Michigan’s automotive industry. The keynote was followed by a panel discussion that included Francis along with Macomb County Executive, Mark Hackel, Vice President of MICHauto, Glenn Stevens, and Vice President of Global Operations for Macomb based Fori Automation, Mike Beck. The panel was moderated by Tom Manganello, Chair of Warner Norcross’s Automotive Industry Group.
Clearly, in Michigan, automotive is once again King. After bottoming out in 2009, we are grateful that the industry’s inspired comeback is pushing maximum capacity. Francis suggested that Michigan now has the opportunity to reorganize the industry while in a position of strength and he shared the state’s strategy to do so.
Francis outlined a three part plan to help Michigan to remain the #1 global auto industry hub. First, focus on retaining the important assets we have; second, strengthen and support those assets; and third, invest in growth and new opportunities.
The panel picked up on these topics and each panelist discussed the challenges and opportunities they see in the current Michigan economy. County Executive Hackel provided a road map for how Macomb County is working to develop its niche businesses. Macomb County has a robust economic development team to assist companies located there; members of this team were present at the event. Stevens discussed how MICHauto is working to develop the automotive business in Michigan on all fronts – suppliers, OEMs, and any other company in the “autosphere.” Beck discussed how Fori Automation has been able to stay in the same spot in Macomb County all of these years, yet thrive globally. The consensus was that it is the resources in Macomb County and Michigan that allow companies like Fori Automation to stay strong through rough economies and meet the challenges of the global economy.
As a long term strategy, the panelists agreed that talent needs to top the list and will require investment. Although Michigan has one of the best trained workforces, the state lost thousands of good people over the last decade and students coming out of our schools aren’t showing as keen an interest in auto jobs as did previous generations. To grow the state's talent pool, Francis said that all of the cards are on the table from K-12 education, university outreach, special programs (he urged guests to familiarize themselves with Michigan’s MAT 2 program that is showing great results) and even potential tax incentives for engineers.
Francis reminded the audience of the importance to first load the gun, then aim, then fire and conceded that Lansing has loaded the gun and is taking aim. The best news, and the bottom line, was that after many years of taking the automotive industry for granted, automotive is clearly the top priority for Michigan today. That focus alone should help the bullish forecasts become a reality and return automotive and Michigan to its throne. Warner Norcross is considering replicating the event in other regions in the coming months.