The automotive industry is the foundation of Michigan’s economy and supports roughly one-quarter of all jobs in the state, yet it is treated in some circles like Rodney Dangerfield: It gets no respect. State officials and business leaders say public, political support is critical to the industry’s future and Michigan’s economy.
That was one of the messages at Tuesday’s I-69 Automotive Suppliers Forum in Owosso. The event, sponsored by Warner Norcross & Judd, provided an update on emerging trends facing automotive suppliers, and was attended by business leaders, automotive suppliers and economic development officials.
Nigel Francis, Senior Automotive Adviser to Governor Rick Snyder and Senior Vice President of the Automotive Industry Office at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, said Michigan’s resurgent auto industry faces a number of challenges: increased foreign competition, the growth of overseas markets and the trend toward smaller, fuel-efficient and alternative fuel vehicles. But he and other speakers at the forum said one of the industry’s biggest problems is its image among Michigan residents, business leaders and policymakers.
“Collectively we, the state of Michigan and the people of Michigan, have this gold in our hands and we need to be very acutely aware of what we’ve got and focus on it,” Francis said. “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to diversify our economy, but our baseline business in Michigan is the automotive industry. That certainly isn’t clear in Lansing.”
Michigan leads the nation in vehicle assembly, parts production, powertrain assembly, research and development and automotive-related patents. Still, Francis and other presenters at the forum said the auto industry is viewed by too many in Michigan as outdated, irrelevant and expendable. “We are our own worst enemy when it comes to the image of the auto industry,” said Tom Manganello, co-chair of the Automotive Industry Group at Warner Norcross.
In a bid to lure new investment, automotive-related companies and jobs to Michigan, state officials have spent the past two years traveling the world telling the story of our automotive industry to some 20,000 people. Francis and others at the I-69 Automotive Suppliers forum said building public support for the industry is critical to assembling the public-private partnerships needed to ensure that it continues to grow and remains a pillar of Michigan’s economy for decades to come.
Bottom line: “If you believe in the auto industry make sure the people in Lansing know it,” Francis said.