By James A. Mitchell

Michigan’s manufacturing and emerging technologies have the state well-prepared to take advantage of federal defense funding to explore emerging fields under the “connected life” idea.

“We’ve been connecting things for years,” Gregg Garrett, CEO and managing director of CGS Advisors said. “We make things here, and have that tradition.”

In September the Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment awarded a $5.97 million grant to boost an Advance Michigan Defense Collaborative, a southeast Michigan workforce training initiative. The grant was matched by the Michigan Economic Development Corp., in-kind funding from the Michigan Defense Center, and matching funds from Macomb County Economic Development and the Workforce Intelligence Network, which will administer the grant along with the Macomb/St. Clair Workforce Investment Board.

Gregg Garrett, CEO and managing director of CGS Advisors

Gregg Garrett, CEO and managing director of CGS Advisors

“This region is uniquely positioned for the connected world and ‘Internet of Things,’” Garrett said. “This is how the world of IT and manufacturing come together.”

The $5 million investment includes development of a “Connected Life” labs serving 13 Southeast Michigan counties to boost existing and in-development workforce training initiatives as well as the exploration of consumer products.

“The market is pushing the private sector to connected products,” Garrett said. “Now it’s time to put the two together.”

The foundation for steering defense-inspired technologies toward private sector career paths has long been a Detroit-area mainstay, but continued innovations in IT and connected products will first require a redefinition of conventional job titles.

“Traditional skilled trades have an opportunity for different situations,” Garrett said. “The blue collar worker of the next generation is the coder.”

Versatility will be critical if the nation is to retain the very jobs it helps create. Analysts said that U.S. inventions in the defense field are difficult to commercialize, and the few consumer products which emerge are typically manufactured overseas.

“The workforce has to be more nimble,” said John Pyrovolakis, Founder of the Innovation Accelerator Foundation, a Nebraska-based consortium that promotes innovation with an emphasis on the defense industry. The computer revolution gave rise to emerging fields in programming, maintenance and development, just as the Internet created the need for software developers across all sectors.

“Innovation is what defines the workforce needs of the future, and typically characterizes how the workforce demands will increase,” Pyrovolakis said. “Waiting for universities to provide engineers isn’t going to cut it.”

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