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SME Speaks: Manufacturing Continues Its Resurgence in Michigan and Beyond

Nigel J. Francis  






By Nigel J. Francis
Senior Vice President, Automotive Office
Michigan Economic Development Corporation
Member Since 2013

It’s an exciting time to be in manufacturing, particularly in the state of Michigan. What many may not know is that Michigan’s leadership in automotive design, engineering and manufacturing is unparalleled—it has 61 of the top 100 North American auto suppliers and 70% of auto R&D spending right in its own backyard. There’s also a greater concentration of workers in auto-related engineering occupations than any of the other top vehicle-producing states. Michigan’s automotive industry directly supports 15% of the workforce with more than 500,000 jobs, which represents 22% of US auto industry workforce; these numbers are growing daily. For each direct automotive job, there are approximately three more jobs created supporting that direct automotive job in the supply chain and communities where the business operates and individual workers live. The strong comeback in the automotive sector is driving the strong comeback in the state of Michigan.

Because manufacturing and the auto industry are so important to the state of Michigan, in 2013, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) established its new Automotive Office, which I currently oversee as its senior vice president. I am also the automotive advisor to the governor of Michigan. The mission of the MEDC’s Automotive Office is “to implement and execute a comprehensive strategic plan to drive Michigan’s automotive industry forward.” To do this, its strategic priorities need to evolve and adapt to both disruptions and new opportunities. Through the strategic planning process, three priorities were identified for Michigan: 1. Technology that is globally best-in-class; 2. World-class talent attraction and retention; and 3. Access to the right capital resources at the right time.

To deliver on these priorities, seven initiatives were identified by the MEDC for its Automotive Office as keys to success.

  • Marketing and Branding—Using the Pure Michigan campaign, a marketing and communication strategy needs to be designed and developed to attract additional auto industry manufacturers to Michigan.
  • Talent Development and Attraction—New programs and services need to be established to help meet the present and future talent needs of the auto industry.
  • Strategic Convening—An advisory structure, in collaboration with the auto industry, needs to be established to focus resources, vision and implementation activities.
  • Collaboration Networks and Infrastructure—Statewide engineering collaboration centers need to be created that focus resources identified in the strategic plan.
  • Policy and Legislation—Provide policy development and analysis with focus on auto industry strategic priorities.
  • Business Development Alignment—Leverage Michigan business development strategies for the auto industry and serve as its expert resource for identifying high-potential attraction and growth opportunities for the state.
  • Capital Attraction and Deployment—Michigan’s capital access strategies need to be aligned with priorities for the auto industry and identify resources that support Michigan assets with potential funding programs.MEDC’s Nigel Francis at Chrysler’s Sterling Heights (MI) Assembly Plant. Chrysler is putting $1 billion worth of updates and changes into the facility.

Both Detroit and Michigan thrive on innovation with an auto industry that has always been at the forefront of creativity and technology. Ultimately, to be successful, Michigan must continue to lead vehicle development and output to stay globally relevant. There is a huge opportunity for the state to become the global leader in the convergence of vehicle and automated technologies. Michigan must be the leader in the integration of CAV technologies—its leadership position will help ensure future global relevance in the automotive industry. In late 2013, to help with this endeavor, a bill was passed that approved testing of driverless cars on Michigan roads. This effort will help keep Michigan at the forefront of automobile development.

In addition, the state must also lead the transformation to lightweight, multi-material vehicles and manufacturing infrastructure. With the recent announcement of the new Advanced Lightweight Metal Manufacturing Innovation Institute (ALMMII) in Canton, MI, this is now on track. The new institute, led by the University of Michigan, will develop cutting-edge lightweight materials for vehicles, ships and airplanes. It’s expected to bring The BIG Mthousands of jobs to the region within the next five years.

The MEDC and the state of Michigan cannot accomplish all of these goals alone, which is one of the reasons why the MEDC is one of the sponsors of SME’s newest event, THE BIG M ( This new event, being held June 9–12 in Detroit at Cobo Center, is not only important for manufacturing, it’s even more important that it’s being held in Michigan, the home of automotive manufacturing. THE BIG M will bring together a convergence of automotive, aerospace, medical and consumer goods manufacturing—all under one roof. In addition, it will create a forum in which all of the bright minds and talents behind those technologies and disciplines can exchange ideas on how to create the new innovations that will drive our manufacturing industry forward.

I hope you will join the MEDC and SME at THE BIG M, as well as help both organizations promote the importance of manufacturing. It’s exciting to watch manufacturing continue to grow stronger and stronger to once again become the great driver of our economy. ME


This article was first published in the May 2014 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF. 

Published Date : 5/1/2014

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