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A Better Partnership


May 2015
May 29, 2015

Mackinac Policy Conference: A Changing Auto Industry is Michigan’s Brightest Opportunity

Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford was at his enthusiastic best at the Policy Conference this afternoon.  A longtime leader in the green movement and the whole  auto mobility issue, he made it clear that Ford Motor Company wants to be at the forefront in alternative transportation systems and autonomous vehicles.  Ford acknowledged that a few years ago when the economic downturn was starting to take hold, nobody in the industry would likely have jumped on the alternative/autonomous vehicle bandwagon.  They’d have put blinders on and said, ‘this isn’t what we do.’

That’s no longer the case.  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.  And he’s excited about it.

I’m excited about it, too. But not without some real concerns. 

I agree that Michigan is on the precipice of potentially explosive growth and opportunity. But, picking up on the continuing theme at Mackinac, we’re only going to realize this opportunity if everybody plays nice and works together.  No one company or group has a lock on this market or likely ever will.  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 buzz I’m hearing about eliminating or downsizing the MEDC scares me.  There are factions in the House of Representatives that would like to see the MEDC dissolved and its operating funds used elsewhere – 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. 

Ironically, just yesterday at this conference,  MICHauto, a Detroit Chamber program of which I’m a co-founder, announced a new “Michigan Mobility Initiative” to promote Michigan as THE place for development of the next generation of mobility.  Our coalition includes Business Leaders for Michigan, MDOT, the University Research Corridor (University of Michigan, Michigan State and Wayne State) and, yes, MEDC. We need them all to achieve our goals in the auto mobility race.  This is not the time to downsize the team.  We can’t be successful with one hand tied behind our back. 

MICHauto is the ideal organization, maybe the only organization, to pull our mobility efforts together and create the kind of success that would propel Michigan up the economic ladder and help to improve everything else that needs improving here.

To me alternative transportation and autonomous vehicle development are two of the brightest spots in Michigan’s future. We cannot squander this opportunity.

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