Meeting the Moment to Support Michigan’s Mobility Sector

Glenn Stevens Jr. joined the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) at their General Assembly on June 23 to discuss Michigan’s place in the race for large corporate investments in the automotive and mobility industry. SEMCOG shared the summary of the event below:

Chris Barnett
June 27, 2022

At SEMCOG’s General Assembly meeting last week in Dearborn, it was my privilege to facilitate a panel discussion on the status of our state in the competition for large corporate investments in the rapidly evolving auto industry.

The window to evolve our region’s infrastructure, talent, and industrial ecosystem is closing fast. The automotive industry is in the midst of historic disruption and innovation. Electric vehicles (EVs), connected- and autonomous vehicle (CAV) technologies, and the ongoing acceleration of an online-based economy are changing the ways people, goods, and services move.

Michigan has a limited opportunity to sustain and reinvent its leadership role in the mobility sector. The discussion featured three of the region’s pre-eminent experts on the topic:

  • Maureen Donohue Krauss, President and CEO, Detroit Regional Partnership
  • Ambassador John Rakolta, Jr. (ret), Chairman, Walbridge
  • Glenn Stevens, Executive Director, MICHauto

Each of them brought an essential perspective on what it will take to leverage our significant legacy in the internal combustion engine (or ICE)-based automotive industry as springboard into competitive success in the EV landscape. One thing was clear before, during, and after the discussion: the need for all levels of government to work with business and education leaders to evolve.

Glenn Stevens, Jr., Executive Director, MICHauto rates Michigan’s current status in the competition for mobility investment at 5/10

MICHauto was established in 2007 to compete with southern states that had automotive associations when Michigan did not, and Glenn Stevens sees his job with MICHauto as providing a statewide voice that ties everyone in the industry together. Like Krauss, Stevens thinks Michigan is currently performing at 5/10 and that we are doing a lot of things right:

  • There is a lot of collaboration and communication in Michigan right now.
  • We are the epicenter of North America’s automotive industry because you will not find anything like what we have in our cluster. Stevens cited our 26 OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) with R&D or technical centers but reminds us that it is not our birthright.
  • Coordinated support from the business community, legislature, and other leaders have helped to ensure funding for incentives we did not have, supporting new and renewed investment in our state.

Based on many of the same challenges described by Rakolta and Krauss, Stevens agreed that we are struggling to be competitive. He cited the following challenges and offered some suggestions for addressing them:

  • Utility costs, site availability, and incentives are all essential areas for improvement.
  • Perceptions of community are a huge area for improvement, and this is a place that local governments can make a difference.
  • We have to grow our knowledge-based, digital economy jobs regardless of industry and increase labor force participation because this is how our talent will be measured in the future.
  • While diversification has traditionally been a challenge for our auto-centric region, the auto industry is a great platform for diversification thanks to core competencies developed to support digital evolution of automotive manufacturing.

View the original article.


MICHauto Annual Briefing Brings Together Industry Leaders To Talk High-tech Talent

On June 22, MICHauto hosted its Annual Briefing on the scenic 16th floor of One Campus Martius. A group of industry leaders convened to discuss the need for cross-sector collaboration among business, education, and government in order to grow Michigan’s high-tech talent base. Among them were Charlie Ackerman, senior vice president of human resources at BOSCH North America, and Quentin Messer Jr., chief executive officer of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, (MEDC), and president and chair of the Michigan Strategic Fund.

The event also featured a panel, moderated by MICHauto Executive Director Glenn Stevens Jr., and included:

  • Brian Burke, Vice President of Sales, Multimatic
  • Dennis Livesay, Dean, College of Computing, Michigan Technological University
  • Roshni Shokar, Startup and Entrepreneur Engagement, Michigan Central
  • JaCinda Sumara, Director, Career Technical Education and Early Middle College, William D. Ford Career Tech Center, Wayne-Westland Community Schools

Jump to section: 

STEVENS: MICHauto Positioning Michigan as a Tech Hub

Stevens began by highlighting Oracle’s April 2021 announcement of plans to build an 8,500-person high-tech digital campus in downtown Nashville. The reason they chose to make such a large investment in the city was the growing concentration of high-tech talent. In similar news close to home, General Motors announced plans in January 2022 to open a new battery plant and upgrade the Lake Orion manufacturing plant.

Just a few days after this announcement, GM Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra posted on LinkedIn that GM would be hiring 8,000 new high-tech roles to support the expansion. Stevens emphasized that because these high-tech workers can work from anywhere, “it’s incumbent upon us that as many as possible work here in Michigan.”

“The talent, the supply chain, policy – so many different things are going to change because of this industry’s transition,” he said.

One of the parts of a vehicle that is changing the most rapidly and driving this transition is the computer, which will compose 50% of a vehicle’s cost by 2030. This advancement is accompanied by a change in desired employee skillsets. He asked, “what are organizations, companies, and educational institutions doing to prepare our digital workforce?”

“Positioning Michigan as a tech hub is extremely important,” said Stevens, because other states and regions want a piece of this kind of economic development as well. Michigan’s neighbors in Ontario have already evolved their approach to talent attraction by branding and positioning their tech hub as “The Corridor.” Ohio has also launched a successful initiative called OhioX whose mission is to build the state as a tech hub.

“If you look at the reasons why Intel is located in Columbus, a very large part of it is because universities, community colleges, and educational institutions banded together to make sure the tech support was going to be there for that facility,” said Stevens.

To set the stage for the rest of the conversation, MICHauto has worked to create continuity around tech and talent development in Michigan through advocacy, convening power, and next-generation mobility. In its talent advocacy, MICHauto has been focused on:

  • The CEO Coalition for Change: An industry diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative.
  • The MICHauto Innovator Xchange: An immediate access point for startups and technology companies through direct engagement with OEMs, suppliers, and other consumers of innovation.
  • Discover Auto, Michigan High-tech Talent Initiative, and Let’s Detroit: Programs designed to create a robust talent pipeline.

There is much to look forward to, but we have to be realistic that our workforce is mature, we are 31st in the country in educational attainment and 49th in our career counselor-to-student ratio. Businesses are relying on the state to address these factors because they need high-tech talent in order to be competitive.

Ackerman: Building Bridges to Support the Talent Pipeline

Charlie Ackerman is concerned that he doesn’t have the sustainability for bringing talent to Michigan that he needs, saying, “80% of what we’re looking for we don’t have.”

As the industry transitions into battery electric vehicle production, the need for talent will continue to increase, comprising one-third of the industry by 2030. While job vacancies grow as the Great Resignation continues, applicants with desirable software engineering, coding, system architecture, and system design skills remain sparse.

Ackerman believes this “war for talent” is of even greater concern for the automotive and mobility industry than the recent semiconductor chip shortage. He said that while traditional supply chain shortages like this can last between 3-6 months, the timeline for talent production is much longer at 12-14 years.

“The automotive and mobility industry needs more talent than Michigan is developing right now,” said Ackerman.

Ackerman asked attendees to envision the talent pipeline as a bridge on which one end are students and on the other are employers. To shepherd students from one side to the other, educators need to provide them with valuable STEM skills to help them enter the high-tech workforce. With only 15% of higher education students in Michigan currently studying a STEM curriculum, it will be an uphill battle.

Ackerman suggested that the solution will be bringing industry, education, and government together at every opportunity to collaborate. He said that the industry can participate by opening its doors to teachers, students, and other education staff to expose them to what it’s really like to work at their facilities. Industry must get on the bridge with education and guide them across to shorten the distance and speed up the process.

Michigan has a clear and present challenge, but Ackerman outlined this recipe for success:

  1. Believe in a purpose that’s bigger than one person can do alone
  2. Believe in others
  3. Truly believe that you can

Messer: Michiganders Are Obsessed with Winning

Quentin Messer Jr., an avid sports fan, called out Michiganders and their obsession with winning. With many successful sports teams both at the university and professional levels, Michigan boasts a rich tradition of championship. He argued that our winning streak isn’t exclusive to sports and that “all of the elements are here to build a championship economy,” so long as we keep our foot on the gas.

With one-fifth of Michigan jobs belonging to the automotive and mobility industry and 96 of the top 100 automotive suppliers operating within the state according to the latest Michigan Is Automobility report, the next 18-20 months of investment in Michigan will be key in deciding our fate for the next 20 years. National and global competition is becoming intense, Messer said, so “we must make sure that we win so we can sustain what has been part of Michigan for generations.”

Messer proposed that the number one asset in any industry is the people, and that economic development only matters to the extent that it transforms the lives of those living in Michigan. Further, he asked if the industry is “ready to accept the talent” needed during the EV transition.

“If we are going to continue to win, it’s only because we won in the first place. Talent, problem-solving, [and] ingenuity. And that’s what we still have in spades,” he said, “Add to work ethic [and] sense of humility. I like our chances, but it’s not going to happen accidentally. It’s going to require intentional engagement by each and every one of us.”

Messer warned that if Michigan doesn’t address the concerns of industry leaders like Ackerman, we risk losing them to global competition. In response, MEDC has formed the Talent Action Team, whose objectives are to:

  • Provide employers with the opportunity to reskill employees
  • Create a rapid and more diverse pipeline of talent
  • Prepare the market to anticipate talent needs
  • Make Michigan a lighthouse for talent attraction, development, and retention

Through these actions, the Talent Action Team will:

  • Future-proof Michiganders: COVID-19 showed us that many industries are vulnerable to tech changes. We need to cultivate lifelong learners to adapt
  • Develop the best pools of talent
  • Foster the most competitive auto ecosystem in the nation
  • Deploy the best recruitment and investment strategy with Michigan as a talent hub
  • Construct a defensive moat to ensure those who know us stay and reinvest
  • Provide a blueprint for sustainable growth

Although there is hard work ahead of us, there are three things we can use to guide us:

  1. When we come together, we can provide and create remarkable things quickly
  2. We must believe in and be ambassadors for Michiganow are we framing the narrative about our great state?
  3. Ensure that we engage young people and the young-at-heart to embrace lifelong learning and innovation

PANEL: Bringing Together Business, Education, and Government

Experts participated in a discussion about the cross-sector collaboration between business, education, and government to grow Michigan’s high-tech talent base and how the industry can engage in the efforts underway.

From Burke’s perspective as a business leader, early engagement with talent is key. If businesses want a talent pool with specific skills, they will need to expose students to careers in autonomous driving and electrification while they’re still in school. Livesay agreed, suggesting that businesses can increase interest in their specific companies among higher education students by offering opportunities to work for them while still in school. This is why K-12 also belongs at the table, offered Sumara. Her school district has already begun redesigning the high school curriculum to foster talent in STEM and allows students to use their senior year to work at an industry partner instead of taking classes.

“Schools have been at the centers of community for a really long time,” said Sumara, “We have been learning from watching things that have been happening in our area. We’re creating more unique spaces, whereas it used to be the football fields where the community came together, we’re modeling what we’re learning from industry and opening innovation centers in all of our elementaries.”

In an update on Michigan Central Station, Shokar said that they are creating a destination for start-up businesses to collaborate and work with established companies to build the future of mobility.

“These big problems we’re facing can’t be solved by one company alone,” said Shokar. “They need collaboration and partnerships.”

Her team is focused on attracting this talent through a strategic placemaking initiative that will connect the Corktown and Southwest neighborhoods and communities, creating a desirable place to live, work, and play. Livesay echoed the importance of community-building in retaining talent, noting that Michigan Technological University alumni often stay close to the university after graduating because of the close-knit ties they formed while attending.

Another way to attract and retain talent in Michigan is simply by being “our own best cheerleaders,” shared Burke. He also noted that younger people value experiences more than material goods and that Michigan has a deal that’s hard to beat when it comes to that. Livesay added, “while we know why we love it here, we all need to be louder about why others would love it too.”

Glenn Stevens Jr. at Michigan Chronicle’s Pancakes and Politics: Companies Should Focus on Their Products’ Ecosystem and Not Be a Part of the Problem in Global Issues to Attract Young Talent

Michigan Chronicle’s Pancakes and Politics returned on Thursday, June 23, to discuss the future of clean energy in Michigan. MICHauto’s Glenn Stevens Jr. was featured as a panelist, alongside Walker Miller Energy Services’ Carla Walker-Miller, Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s Liesl Clark, and DTE Energy’s Jerry Norcia, with Ignition Media Group’s Dennis W. Archer Jr. as the moderator.

The conversation began with an acknowledgment of the 2022 Mackinac Policy Conference conversations on Michigan’s competitiveness to attract and retain companies in the state and how Michigan’s affordable energy access could be used as an enticement. In his answer, Stevens specifically mentioned comments made by Sandy Pierce of Huntington Bank during the Make Michigan More Competitive panel on Michigan’s lack of accessible and affordable energy for companies.

“Sandy Pierce dropped the mic in the competitiveness panel on why Ohio won this Intel deal for the $20 billion plant they’re building. She laid out the factors and said energy is one of them,” said Stevens. “But I will say that I think we’re hard on ourselves sometimes. While we’ve had some losses, we’ve also had some big wins too. But we got to set our sights on what’s that package of competitiveness for the future.”

Later in the conversation, Stevens was asked about the current opportunities for companies to become or move up a tier level as automotive suppliers. He believes the future is the new net-zero energy economy due to the automotive industry’s growing openness to it and the amount of inclusivity that already exists and will continue to expand within this industry sector.

“This new net-zero energy economy…has more opportunity for new entrepreneurs, for inclusivity, that our state’s had since the early 1920s,” Stevens said. “The [energy] grid, the energy distribution, the design engineering and manufacturing, the services, and recycling of the vehicles [are a part of] a very big ecosystem that exists around new energy and electric vehicles that we didn’t have before. So, I would argue that the greatest opportunity for inclusivity in participation with Michiganders than we’ve seen in a long, long time.”

In a panel audience question, the panel was asked about their thoughts on preparing K-12 students for this clean energy industry future. Stevens mentioned that future, as well as current, workers are looking to work for companies who solve global problems, not contribute to them. Further, Stevens suggests engaging with young Michiganders first before relying on importing out-of-state talent.

“The theme, without a doubt, is kids—all people, really—want to work in industries and companies that want to solve global issues and not contribute to them,” said Stevens. “I would also submit to the greatest concentration of people to work in our industry are the ones who are growing up here. Yes, we need to attract people [outside the state], but we need to cultivate our own [Michiganders] and get them connected with solving global issues in this net-zero economy across all different types of industries.”

When later asked by another audience member about how businesses should “pivot” from the reliability of single-source companies, Stevens applauded companies like General Motors and Telsa that are looking at their eco-system process differently.

“When GM looks at, say electrification, they look at the whole eco-system. And the magic of Telsa is…not the vehicle itself. It’s the ecosystem that they’ve built around it,” said Stevens. “And all of the OEMs are looking at it the same way. I credit the companies across the ecosystem for looking at this differently.”

In one of the last questions, the panel was asked what one thing they could change from a federal policy perspective. After sharing his belief of people “nickel-and-diming” the energy policy issues in Washington, Stevens shared his worries about being “lapped” by the rest of the world.

“We’re arguing [in Washington] if we can extend the credits to over 200,000 vehicles. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is lapping us, whether it’s Asia, the UK, or the EU,” said Stevens. “…we need to get a national energy security policy and program in place that’s meaningful and at least keeps pace with the rest of the world, or…I don’t really want to think about the alternative.”



Charlie Ackerman

Senior Vice President, Human Resources
Bosch North America

Charlie AckermanCharlie Ackerman is the senior vice president of Human Resources at Bosch North America.  Over the past 11 years in this role, Ackerman has focused on preparing, shaping, and leading the people strategies of Bosch North America’s high-performance culture spanning over 100 sites and 37,000 associates. Ackerman also serves on Bosch’s global Human Resources Core Council and is a board member of Bosch Canada.

Since joining Bosch in 1995, Ackerman has held human resources leadership positions in Charleston, South Carolina, Stuttgart, Germany, and Farmington Hills, Michigan. Before joining Bosch, he held human resources and manufacturing positions with Asten Inc. and International Paper.

Since 1998, Ackerman has been actively involved as a judge, mentor, and sponsor of FIRST Robotics and currently serves on the global FIRST Executive Advisory Council.

He is a co-founder and active participant in the Michigan Mobility Talent Consortium focused on Michigan’s Workforce Development Eco-System.

Ackerman holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Mississippi State University.

JaCinda Sumara

Director, Career Technical Education and Early Middle College
Wayne-Westland Community School District

JaCinda Sumara is Director of Career Technical Education and Early Middle College at Wayne-Westland Community School District.  In her current role, she is focused on building and sustaining business-education partnerships to support the development of a strong K-12 career readiness system.

Over the past 10 years, Sumara’s professional responsibilities have expanded from leading school technology initiatives to re-imagining and expanding career preparation teaching and learning practices.

Sumara has a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Sociology with a concentration in Public Policy from Albion College, a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from University of Detroit Mercy, and an educational specialist degree in Education Administration with a concentration in Instructional Technology from Wayne State University.

Roshni Shokar

Startup Engagement
Michigan Central

Roshni ShokarRoshni Shokar leads startup engagement for Michigan Central. She is responsible for designing and implementing programs that cultivate local mobility innovation in Detroit and attract global startups to the region.

Shokar has a background in marketing and business strategy and has experience working with both startups and large companies. She has been based in Detroit since 2017, working in the Mobility industry, and is passionate about creating accessible and sustainable mobility solutions.

Shokar holds a Master of Business Administration from the Kellogg School of Management, where she focused on entrepreneurship & social impact, and a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

Quentin Messer Jr.

Quentin MesserQuentin Messer Jr. is the Michigan Economic Development Corp.’s (MEDC) chief executive officer and president and chair of the Michigan Strategic Fund. Messer is charged with implementing and executing MEDC’s core mission of business development and attraction, community development, providing access to capital, and enhancing Michigan’s image and brand with a focus on building a strong and equitable economy for all Michiganders.

Messer is a member of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s cabinet and serves on the boards of the American Center for Mobility, Michigan Israel Business Accelerator, International Economic Development Council, and Oklahoma University’s Economic Development Institute, and is a member of the Michigan Council on Climate Solutions.

Prior to joining MEDC, Messer was president and chief executive officer at the New Orleans Business Alliance, which under his leadership, became one of fewer than 80 accredited economic development organizations worldwide. Messer also served as the Assistant Secretary for Louisiana Economic Development, Louisiana’s department of economic development.

Quentin is an alumnus of the Boston Consulting Group and O’Melveny & Myers LLP and a degree recipient from Princeton and Columbia Universities.

Brian Burke

Vice President, Sales
Multimatic Corporation

Brian BurkeBrian Burke is Vice President of Sale at Multimatic Corporation, a global leader in automotive components, niche vehicles, and engineering services. Since 2019, Burke has been responsible for global sales, product services, marketing, and communications groups.

Before Multimatic, he was the Vice President of GECOM Corporation, where he was a member of the corporate board of directors and was twice awarded the Mitsui ACT Presidents Award, the highest honor given by the parent company Mitsui. In Oct 2015, he was named “Top 40 under 40” by Crain’s Detroit Business.

Brian also spent 10 years leading Brembo North America’s sales OEM division. He has a passion for motorsports and raced professionally in the Cooper Tires Road to Indy series and twice won the American Road Race of Champions.

His goal this year is to help his organization hire hungry, humble, and intelligent individuals to support continued business growth. He strives to foster a company culture that appeals to the new generation entering the automotive industry.

Ford and GM are going all in on electric cars, and thousands of jobs hang in the balance

By Jaclyn Trop
June 1, 2022

In Dearborn, just outside Detroit, the auto industry’s past and future face each other across an access road.

The location is Rouge River, the sprawling century-old factory complex where Ford Motor Co. made Model A’s for the masses. One of the busiest plants on the 600-acre campus churns out the gas-powered F-150 pickup, America’s bestselling vehicle for the past four decades and Ford’s most profitable model.

But just across the street stands a building whose signage places it in a new era: the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center. In late April, that plant produced the first batch of the Lightning battery-electric version of the F-150—a model that could be poised to become the first Detroit-made EV hit.

The juxtaposition of Ford’s past and future represents not only the company’s $50 billion bet on EVs, but the larger story playing out across the global automotive industry. The new Rouge plant is a litmus test for American consumers, and the Lightning is Ford’s most important launch since the Model T. It’s a way for Ford to prove that it can master the transition to software-based, battery-electric vehicles—to successfully build and sell something that’s less like a workaday truck and more akin to an iPhone that can tow 10,000 pounds.

“That gives us a chance to redefine the company like we did in the teens and ’20s with the Model T,” Ford CEO Jim Farley tells Fortune.

Detroit’s three legacy automakers—General Motors; Ford; and Stellantis, the European joint venture that owns Chrysler—are all in the redefinition business. They’re investing a combined $120 billion to put millions of EVs on the road by 2030. And that collective investment—even more than the automotive industry’s past twists and turns—is remaking the Motor City, creating a seismic shift in how its residents think, work, and live.

People want to work for a company that’s going to change the world. When we announced that we were going to make the whole light-duty fleet electric, we saw applications go up.


Some of this remaking is literal rebuilding, as the Detroit Three repurpose factories for the EV era. Some is corporate, as they develop and acquire businesses that focus on software and EV battery tech. But the trickiest remaking is one of human resources—as the electric transition ripples through an automotive industry that employs 290,000 people in Michigan.

What most people in Detroit acknowledge, but few like to discuss, is that even a successful transition means fewer traditional jobs in the auto industry. The forces driving the change are twofold: Battery packs have fewer parts than internal combustion engines (ICEs)—so EVs require about 30% fewer hours of labor on the assembly line. As Farley puts it, “The manufacturing jobs are going to go from making oily things to digital things.”

At the same time, the electrified powertrains of EVs require electrical engineers, software developers, and all manner of technicians. And the increasingly complex software systems that EVs rely on will need their own cadres of programmers, researchers, and designers. The industry’s center of gravity, in short, is shifting from the assembly line to the computer workbench.

In its best-case scenario, Michigan’s state government forecasts the creation of up to 300,000 new jobs across the electrification ecosystem, from battery manufacturing and recycling to service and charging networks. But some existing jobs are bound to disappear. Over the next few years, the U.S. will start shedding nearly one-third of its automotive factory jobs, according to Don Grimes, a labor economist at the University of Michigan. And state officials have estimated that the overall shift could affect 60% of Michigan’s automotive workforce, putting 170,000 workers in a position where they’ll need to learn new skills—or find work in another industry.

More than any other American companies, Ford and GM—which employ 50,000 and 52,000 people in Michigan, respectively—will make the decisions that reshape that workforce. And as they become more digital, they’ll face a different dilemma: They’ll be competing for talent not only with each other and other legacy automakers, but with EV pioneer Tesla and with countless other tech-driven industries that need programmers and engineers.

Those applicants are signing up for a bumpy ride. Despite their eye-popping investments and production goals, the legacy automakers’ electric future is not guaranteed. For now, Detroit’s accelerated EV pace is fueled more by government mandates than by consumer demand: EVs represented just 4% of the 15 million new vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2021, though the share is quickly growing. And supply-chain challenges, including shortages of semiconductors and raw materials for batteries, rising inflation, and disruptions stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and COVID-related factory shutdowns in China, are making the logistics and finances of EVs even thornier.

Amid that uncertainty, the only certainty is that the city that put America on wheels needs to buckle in for the most momentous transition in its history.

Mary Barra, for one, is bullish about the talent battle. “What we’re finding when we hire is that people want to work for a company that’s going to change the world,” GM’s CEO tells Fortune during an interview in a mid-century modern office at the GM Global Technical Center in Warren, Mich. “They want to work for a company that shares their values. When we made our announcement that we were going to make the whole light-duty fleet electric by 2035, we actually saw applications go up.”

Both Ford and GM have experimented with EVs for years, but it’s hard to overstate how much they’ve recently accelerated that commitment. Barra announced in January 2021 that GM would phase out ICE vehicles by 2035. Ford hasn’t committed to a full phaseout, but it now aims to get 50% of sales from EVs by 2030. This March, Ford formalized its transformation with a restructuring that separated its EV business, now called Ford Model e, from its ICE business, Ford Blue. Wall Street embraced Ford’s decision, positing that strong cash flows from Blue could support Ford’s EV expansion.

That dynamic, of internal-combustion profits paying for a zero-emissions future, has already helped both companies overhaul their physical assets. It shows most dramatically in factory footprints across Metro Detroit, where they’re closing old plants, opening new ones, and retooling gas-engine factories to build EVs instead. These real estate decisions have far-reaching repercussions, from the tax base for municipal water to the vitality of the 24-hour Coney Island diners where second- and third-shifters gather after work.

One of the highest-profile conversions is Factory Zero, GM’s new name for its nearly 40-year-old plant in Hamtramck. GM spent $2.2 billion to retool it for EVs, including the battery-electric Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Hummer pickup trucks; President Biden flew into town for its grand opening in November, and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan gave his State of the City address there in March. Ford, meanwhile, has invested $700 million outfitting the Rouge complex to build the Lightning; $185 million building Ford Ion Park, a battery laboratory near Detroit Metro Airport; and $250 million on smaller local plants to increase production capacity for the Lightning.

Barra argues that all this production infrastructure gives Detroit a distinct advantage over other cities in the electrification race. Even as software becomes a core part of the vehicle, “we’re still very proud of the fact that we make things,” she says. “As others come into this industry, they’re recognizing the manufacturing piece is hard.”

“We actually have a position of strength that we took for granted for many years,” agrees Glenn Stevens, executive director of MICHauto, the association for Michigan’s automotive companies. “There is no denser cluster in the world of automotive and mobility engineering and manufacturing than in Michigan.” Converting the cluster, Detroit’s honchos argue, is easier than starting from scratch.

GM and Ford are also building more new businesses around EV platforms. At GM, for example, the in-house Innovation Lab has incubated BrightDrop, a commercial-delivery EV maker that has contracts to produce vans for FedEx and Walmart; BrightDrop is now hiring hundreds of engineers, software developers, and product designers in Palo Alto, Detroit, and Atlanta. GM also expects the self-driving car company Cruise, of which it is majority shareholder, to produce its first commercial model, the Cruise Origin shuttle, next year at Factory Zero: GM believes Cruise sales to ride-hailing and rental-car companies could become a $50-billion-a-year business by 2030.

In our conversation, Barra gets particularly animated about Ultifi—the cloud-based subscription software service GM is developing. Slated to arrive next year, Ultifi will essentially be the operating system for GM vehicles, capable of regularly upgrading itself like your smartphone does (and Teslas do): The company says it could generate as much as $25 billion a year in revenue by 2030. Ultifi owners could essentially download automotive features that are currently on the drawing board—like using cameras for facial recognition to start the vehicle, or communicating with drivers’ smart-home applications—without having to buy a new car. Ultifi will interact with third-party apps too; and in an era when software controls more functions on every vehicle, it’ll be an efficient way to repair any bugs.

“The whole concept is that your vehicle can get better as you own it,” says Barra. “Two or three years from now, I can get a feature that didn’t even exist when I bought the vehicle, which is a whole way to reimagine the business.”

Reimagining the business, of course, means reimagining the workforce: The lingering question is who will fill the retooled factories and at what kind of wages. The skills to build, say, a Ford Mustang are not the same ones needed to create an iPhone on wheels.

All three legacy automakers are quick to dispel the idea that metro Detroit’s traditional assembly line jobs could fade away, to be supplanted by a smaller, savvier workforce. “That’s the first important expectation—that we should not be afraid of change,” Stellantis’s Amsterdam-based CEO, Carlos Tavares, tells Fortune. “There will be some change in the general assembly of the vehicles, but nothing that would be scary.”

GM points to Factory Zero to refute fears of layoffs. “The notion that we’re shrinking, that electrification means less jobs, is not the way that we see it,” says Jim Quick, the plant’s executive director. “We’ve announced that we’re going to have about 2,200 jobs–plus. We haven’t had 2,200-plus jobs here in quite some time.” Most of those jobs are unionized: The United Auto Workers union has leaned on the Detroit Three to make sure its members don’t get left behind in the transition.

The EV revolution is going to cost a lot of jobs, but so does almost all technological progress. Think of how many secretarial jobs have been eliminated by computers.


That said, for workers with “analog” backgrounds, building EV powertrains and batteries requires new training. At GM’s Orion Assembly plant, the entire 1,000-plus person workforce pivoted in 2020 from making gas-engine cars to building the Chevrolet Bolt EV, retraining along the way. (GM says the plant’s workforce will more than triple when it starts making EV pickup trucks.) Many Factory Zero staff underwent reskilling, too. Barra sees retraining as having benefits beyond job preservation: It’s a chance to retool the culture so that opportunities are based on workers’ skills rather than academic credentials. “I think that’s going to open up [advancement] to a whole other realm of people, who don’t think everything has to be done by a four-year degree,” she says.

A wide range of other public and private stakeholders are also developing new educational programs around EV skills. The State of Michigan is awarding grants for groups to develop curriculums for certifications for EV occupations, including dealership technicians and electricians for charging stations. Even Silicon Valley’s behemoths are getting in on the act. Last summer, Apple opened a Detroit developer academy; it just finished providing its first 100-person cohort, ages 18 to 60, with 10 months of free training in coding and app development. And Google plans to hold free coding classes in the city to help prepare high school students for high-tech jobs, starting next year.

Duggan, Detroit’s three-term mayor, has done his share of lobbying to keep EV jobs local. Talking with a reporter in his 11th-floor City Hall office, Duggan recalls making his case to the Big Three: “I told them, ‘I want you not just to build your electric vehicles here, but I want the entrepreneurs who are designing the electric and automated vehicles of the future to want to locate here.’ ” When Fiat Chrysler was mulling where to build its new Jeep Grand Cherokee plug-in hybrid models, the city offered to handle hiring through job fairs and prescreenings for Detroit residents. In exchange, the automaker made a $1.6 billion commitment to convert its Mack Avenue Engine Complex into a factory that can build EV powertrains; it reopened in June 2021.

“If you put your plant in Detroit, you’re going to have huge help with the workforce,” Duggan says. “If you want to build someplace 40 miles out of Chicago in a cornfield, your hiring is going to be more challenging.”

Still, not every current worker will have a job waiting for them in the electric era. “The EV revolution is going to cost a lot of jobs,” says Grimes, the labor economist. “But so does almost all technological progress. Think of how many secretarial jobs have been eliminated by computers.” That said, he adds, “it has been a challenge for people to change careers and to move to new towns, but it has ultimately been worth it.” The long-term challenge in Detroit: making sure that retraining and reskilling give people the skills to keep working, even if it means changing professions.

Running in parallel with the retraining is the automakers’ campaign to attract white-collar tech types—which doesn’t necessarily mean attracting them to Detroit. When GM began a few years ago to replace retirees with fresh software talent, the recruitment pitch was not unduly difficult, Barra says. But not all of them are coming to Michigan. The automaker is also staffing up in San Francisco; in Tel Aviv; and at its technical center in Markham, Ontario, where the nearby University of Waterloo is, as Barra notes, “a huge feeder pool to Silicon Valley.”

GM plans to hire 8,000 technical workers this year alone, but it’s giving business-unit managers discretion about where to hire. “This approach helps us compete with tech companies, especially in areas like software, analytics, and AVs [autonomous vehicles],” a spokesman says. “With the remote economy and the absolute thirst for software engineers, [automakers are] going to be flexible, just like Microsoft or Google or Amazon,” says Stevens of MICHauto.

Detroit isn’t terra incognita for coders and engineers: Ford and GM already employ thousands of developers here, and younger techies are already reshaping the city on the surface. If assembly line workers tend to live in bungalows in Sterling Heights or St. Clair Shores and spend weekends at their cottages in Mid-Michigan or the Upper Peninsula, the software crowd is more likely to own condos downtown and spend nights at dining spots like Shelby, a James Beard Award–semifinalist cocktail bar housed in a former bank vault.
But automakers are also developing the kinds of collaborative spaces that draw adventurous STEM talent. Ford is investing $525 million in workforce development around the U.S. by 2026, and one of its most visible efforts is its Research & Engineering Center in Dearborn, a 2-million-square-foot campus that it is redesigning to educate 20,000 Ford designers, engineers, and product developers—the foot soldiers of the EV revolution—by 2025.

Other spaces reach across corporate boundaries. On one downtown artery, an unassuming parking garage houses the Detroit Smart Parking Lab, a new joint effort among Ford, parts supplier Bosch, the State of Michigan, and Bedrock, the commercial real estate firm owned by Quicken Loans cofounder Dan Gilbert.

Operated by the nonprofit American Center for Mobility, the space serves as a collaborative test bed for automotive technology, from charging stations to cloud-based services. Participating companies range from Enterprise Rent-A-Car to Hevo, a startup focused on wireless charging for EVs. “Many of the projects we see, they’re one piece of a puzzle,” said Reuben Sarkar, president and CEO of the mobility center. “By having this laboratory space, we’re actually forming collaborations that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.”

Perhaps the most striking emblem of collaboration is Michigan Central Station. One of the city’s most visible examples of urban blight since the last Amtrak train departed in 1988, the once-grand Beaux Arts building in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood is still surrounded by barbed wire to discourage vandals and squatters. But Ford has invested $950 million to develop the property as a hub for cooperation on transportation tech. Slated to open next year, the complex will house a big cadre of techies from Ford, as well as “landing pads” for other companies, like Google and self-driving car company Argo AI. The center will be a place where innovators can develop, test, and launch technology around autonomous vehicles, public transit, smart roads, and EV infrastructure. And about half of the 5,000 employees on the campus will come from Ford’s workforce—creating a pipeline from the innovation frontier back to the parent company.

Detroit has been synonymous with the U.S. auto industry for so long that it’s easy to forget that most of its domestic production takes place elsewhere. Each of the Big Three makes the majority of its traditional vehicles outside Michigan state lines, and the same will be true of EVs.

GM spent $2 billion retooling its complex in Spring Hill, Tenn.—already its largest facility in North America—to build a range of EVs, including the Cadillac Lyriq, the first battery-electric model from that brand. And that’s a fraction of the $11.4 billion Ford and South Korea’s SK Innovation are investing in Tennessee and Kentucky: The Blue Oval City complex—which will build electric F-Series pickups and advanced batteries—in Stanton, Tenn., and twin battery factories in Glendale, Ky., will together create 11,000 jobs.

Indeed, the increasing globalization of Ford and GM have prompted some local officials to question whether taxpayer money spent on retraining auto workers and attracting tech talent might be better spent elsewhere, including on infrastructure and public education. (Barra, in her conversation with Fortune, highlighted the city’s beleaguered school system as an obstacle for families considering moving to Detroit.)

At the same time, Michigan and Detroit are less dependent on the auto industry than they were in the 20th century. The logistics, finance, health care, and IT industries have all created steady job growth in the region. Detroit’s unemployment rate remains much higher than the national average, at around 10%, but the local economy is in far better shape than it was in the Great Recession, when GM, Chrysler, and the City of Detroit itself all declared bankruptcy.

In short, Detroit is no longer a comeback story. The stakes for the city in the EV transition have to do with quality rather than quantity: Ford, GM, and local officials don’t necessarily want to make more cars here, but they want the Motor City’s workers to remain at the heart of EV innovation—in design, in connectivity, in autonomous driving.

“After decades of struggling to redefine the city’s identity,” Ford’s Farley says, “we’re starting to find our mojo again.” That mojo is palpable in new EV-centric spaces like Factory Zero and the Parking Lab, where Detroit seems to crackle with new energy.

Next year, in downtown Detroit, some of that energy will be made visible. On a stretch of blacktop in the Michigan Central Station district, local officials will unveil the country’s first public electrified roadway. Developed by Israeli company Electreon and the Michigan Department of Transportation, the infrastructure embedded beneath the road will recharge EVs wirelessly while they drive, park, or wait in traffic. The roadway won’t be far from the intersection where Detroit introduced the country’s first three-color, four-way traffic light more than 100 years ago—yet another hopeful juxtaposition of Detroit’s future and its past.

The great electric bet

America’s Big Three automakers—Fortune 500 giants Ford and General Motors, and Chrysler, now owned by Amsterdam-based Stellantis—have collectively pledged more than $120 billion over the next few years to convert more of their production lines to electric vehicles. Here’s how their bets stack up.

Ford Motor Co.

The commitment:
50% of sales to come from EVs by 2030

The investment:
$50 billion in EV plants, software, and training through 2026

The strategy:
Ford will focus first on electrifying its top-selling models, most notably the F-150 Lightning pickup, whose gas-powered version has been a top seller for four decades.

Key early EV models:
F-150 Lightning, Mustang Mach-E SUV, and E-Transit commercial van (all on sale now).

General Motors

The commitment:
100% of global sales to come from EVs by 2035

The investment:
$35 billion in EV and autonomous-vehicle technology through 2025

The strategy:
GM plans to launch 30 new EVs globally by 2025, almost all of them new models rather than updates of older ones. KEY EARLY EV MODELS: Cadillac Lyriq luxury sedan and GMC Hummer pickup (on sale now); Hummer SUV and Chevrolet Silverado pickup (2023).

Key early EV models:
Cadillac Lyriq luxury sedan and GMC Hummer pickup (on sale now); Hummer SUV and Chevrolet Silverado pickup (2023).


The commitment:
100% of European sales and 50% of North Ameri- can sales to come from EVs by 2030

The investment:
$35.5 billion in electrification, software, and technology through 2025

The strategy:
In North America, Stellantis has focused to date on plug-in hybrid versions of popular models, but it plans to launch at least 25 new EV nameplates.

Key early EV models:
Chrysler Pacifica and Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe (on sale now); Jeep Wagoneer 4xe (later this year).

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