Original story written by Christine Ferretti and Jonathan Oosting for DetroitNews.com, published on October 30, 2017.
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Silicon Valley technology giant Cisco Systems is making a series of significant investments in Michigan as part of a three-year partnership aimed at making the state “one of the most secure and digitally advanced” in the nation.

Company officials on Monday announced the State Digital Acceleration initiative in Detroit at the 2017 North American International Cyber Summit hosted by Gov. Rick Snyder.

Initial plans include a “connected roadway” pilot project with the Michigan Department of Transportation, a partnership with Wayne State to develop the university’s digital manufacturing center in Detroit, expansion of IT training through the Cisco Networking Academy and other efforts to improve state and local government technology.

The company is not disclosing the total amount it plans to spend in Michigan, but Gleeson said Cisco has been surprised by how quickly it has been able to discover worthy projects.

“For the state of Michigan, it’s about economic transformation innovation in mobility, training, education, manufacturing, government services and smart communities,” said Alison Gleeson, a Michigan resident and senior vice president for Cisco Americas.

“I’m honored to play a role in this rich history in Michigan around innovation,” Gleeson told a crowd of several hundred gathered for the summit inside Cobo Center. “If we do it right — as the mother of two high school students — all of our children will graduate from these great universities in our state and have their careers here in Michigan and give back.”

Cisco is a multinational corporation based in California that specializes in networking, telecommunications and other high-tech services and products. It last year reported $48 billion in total revenues.

The program is modeled after digital acceleration programs Cisco has launched in 16 countries. The Michigan initiative is the company’s first state-level initiative of its kind.

Gleeson said Cisco chose the state because it is already a leader in mobility, autonomous vehicle technology and engineering talent. And in Snyder, a former Gateway Computers executive, Michigan has a governor who understands the power of technology, she said.

“The state is electric right now,” Gleeson told The Detroit News. “You feel it as you walk in the city of Detroit. You feel it everywhere. We’re at a 17-year low in terms of unemployment, so it’s pretty exciting.”

Snyder, who is developing a “Marshall Plan for talent” and is calling tech education a top priority of his final term, praised the Cisco initiative Monday, saying it’s “leading edge.”

“This unique partnership with Cisco is an opportunity to collaborate on accelerating some of the great initiatives already in place, as well as championing new ideas and solutions that will further our commitment to being a digital leader in the nation,” he said.

A key component of the partnership, Snyder said, is Cisco’s Network Academy.

Cisco said it hopes to more than double Michigan enrollment in classes for the information technology skills and career-building program from 3,000 to 8,000 students by 2020.

Cisco will also offer and fund 300 scholarships to help train instructors in the field.

Snyder on Monday said the effort ties in with his talent plan, which will cover an analysis of 15 job classifications in information technology through 2030. Michigan, he said, is “lagging terribly behind” in its ability to fill cyber jobs.

“The jobs are there,” he said. “Our system is not calibrated yet to develop the talent pipeline we need to be successful in this area, and we have to do something about it.”

Snyder said his talent plan will factor in funding for some of the curriculum development and programming. He doesn’t expect to roll it out prior to his budget presentation in February.

The connected roadways pilot program will see Cisco and the state Transportation Department test new technology on portions of Interstate 94 and the Interstate 96/Interstate 696 interchange in Metro Detroit.

The system will help alert drivers to upcoming traffic or road conditions through connected vehicle technology, digital signs or navigation applications like Waze.

Gleeson noted a fatal 40-car pileup last winter on I-96 near the Livingston County border blamed on whiteout conditions.

“Being able to have the driver in a car have notification well before they encounter that environmental situation is game changing and it’s life changing,” she said.

The company’s partnership with Wayne State will center around a 25,000-square-foot hub focused on advance manufacturing.

Wayne State is developing it within an existing building on Fort Street with plans to implement welding, machining and robotics “cells,” said Leslie Monplaisir, chair of the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering.

Cisco will provide connectivity and real-time data, Monplaisir said, calling the center a future “test bed for the next generation of workforce in Michigan” and new faculty developing technology for smart cities, connected vehicles and “the internet of things.”

“The College of Engineering is really, really excited,” he said.

Cisco also is planning projects with Michigan State University. The university, Gleeson noted, is a “global leader in supply chain” and will work with Cisco on a next generation model.

Cisco said it will partner with the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget to improve services delivered to residents and state agencies, including cyber security and cloud computing.

The company also will work to encourage “smart, connected communities” across Michigan,” Gleeson said.

“We take city problems around energy consumption, traffic and safety and security, and we apply technology to help solve those problems,” Gleeson said.

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