Chris Gautz| Crain’s Detroit Business

A group of Michigan lawmakers visited the North American International Auto Show on Wednesday, in part to hear the state’s strategy for strengthening and growing its automotive industry.

The House Commerce Committee and the Senate Economic Development Committee held a joint hearing at Cobo Center to hear from officials at the Michigan Economic Development Corp., MichAuto, Nissan Americas and Magna International Inc. about the state’s future in the industry.

Steve Hilfinger, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the MEDC, spoke on behalf of Nigel Francis, the state’s senior automotive adviser, who was in attendance, but had lost his voice after coming down with the flu.

There are many opportunities for Michigan, he said, especially with new technologies. He said the state wants to attract relevant electronics, software and systems integration firms to locate in the state.

Hilfinger said Michigan must lead the transformation from mild steel to lightweight, multi-material vehicles and infrastructure. These new materials require new forming and joining technologies, advanced simulation and engineering skills, he said.

Some of the legislative changes made in recent years, have led those in the site selector community to tell the MEDC that Michigan is now on the map when it comes to locating new automotive facilities.

But Hilfinger said there has always been competition from the southern states, and there is intense competition now from Mexico.

As part of the strategic plan, there also needs to be an expansion of relevant educational and training programs, which will require significant funding, he said.

Scott Paradise, vice president of marketing and business development for the Americas–Magna International Inc., told the committees they are the largest automotive supplier in the United States and have been increasing the company’s investment in Michigan.

Magna plans to spend about $500 million in facilities and create 4,600 jobs in Michigan over the next few years, Paradise said.

In addition to investment and growth, talent development was a resounding theme throughout the hearings.

Sen. Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, said talent remains the biggest challenge in Michigan.
He also said the state Senate will be organizing an event in February or March between the Senate Economic and Education committees to discuss options with educators and business.
“We’re not here to figure out who fell down on the job, but to find a solution,” Kowall said while touring the show floor after the hearings.
Dustin Walsh contributed to this report.

Chris Gautz: 1-517-403-4403, Twitter: @chrisgautz

Share On