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2022 MICHauto by the Bay: Outdoor Mobility Industry Roundtable Round-Up

Over 40 government, industry, and academic stakeholders convened in Traverse City on Aug. 1 to discuss Michigan’s leadership in the outdoor mobility industry, which has an incredible depth of specializations, including ORV and marine vehicle electrification, multimodal charging, and much more. 

Capitalize on Michigan’s Distinctive Outdoor Characteristics and History 

Kicking off the conversation, Warren Call of Traverse Connect asked the group about the values Michigan brings to the outdoor mobility industry compared to other national and international locations.  

Chris MacInnes of Crystal Mountain called Michigan’s value proposition “three-fold,” hinging upon the state’s great outdoors and engineering talent strength. Along with believing that Michigan is a “maker-state” with its advanced technology and testing capacity, she complimented Michigan’s geographic, cultural, and economic diversity, making it a “perfect destination” for the outdoor mobility industry and its incoming talent. 

“Michigan is surrounded by 20% of the world’s fresh water, and our northern geographic location will be a long-term benefit as people migrate from warmer climates to take advantage of what Michigan offers,” MacInnes said. “For Michigan to attract the talent needed for this industry, we need a laser-focused strategy to help talent see the opportunity to live, work, play, learn, and call Michigan home.” 

Quentin Messer Jr. of Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) added the need to “capture the value of our creativity,” citing the modern snowboarding industry’s 1965 founding in Muskegon.  

Michigan Technological University’s Jay Meldrum highlighted the natural resources that Michigan offers to this industry but also noted the infrastructure challenges we face in electrifying this ecosystem and that tackling the infrastructure will be critical to this strategy. 

Nick Thomas of Newlab Detroit noted that connecting the dots between the vast amount of industry specializations is both an opportunity and a challenge. 

Today’s Small Steps for Mobility, Electrification, and Outdoor Recreation in Michigan 

This critical conversation also focused on how businesses and industry leaders can ensure that Michigan is ground zero for mobility, electrification, and outdoor recreation.  

Charlie Tyson of the MEDC’s Office of Future Mobility and Technology noted the State of Michigan and the National Parks Service’s most recent partnership to identify accessibility challenges in our state’s ecosystem and find businesses that could solve those challenges. He also mentioned his office’s partnerships with the Michigan Mobility Funding Platform, their Testing Site Network, and EGLE’s Charge Up Michigan Program. 

Additionally, Scott Canning of Aqua superPower mentioned his company’s progress in making northwest Michigan the nation’s first corridor for electric boat charging. Canning further suggested finding anchor projects, like specific trails to electrify and charge ecosystem pilots, as small but leveraging first wins. 

Josh Stevens of Polaris said the company was drawn to Michigan because of its engineering and design capabilities. For the future, sustainable talent will be key for not only them but the industry at large. Stevens also highlighted some concerns for the outdoor mobility industry that mirror concerns for the electric vehicle industry, like range anxiety, and pressed the need for ample infrastructure to deploy these vehicles across Michigan. 

Additional Considerations That Can Lead to Tomorrow’s Big Wins 

Julie Clark of TART TRAILS noted the challenge of older trail networks that need upgrades for e-bikes. There, the discussion touched on developing loops and nodes that connect across the state to enable deployment in targeted areas that lead to broader coverage. 

Reuben Sarkar of the American Center for Mobility added the consideration of being consumer-driven, like adding focus groups alongside pilots, saying, “we need to keep in mind the financial value proposition for these initiatives so that they are sustainable.” 

Similar discussions like this roundtable will continue at the 2022 North American International Auto Show.