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Chamber forms group to sell state as right fit for auto-related business via:Crains

By Dustin Walsh originally for Crain’s Detroit Business

The U.S. auto sector is flocking south, lured away from the Motor City by enterprising industry groups in Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina. But a new initiative by the Detroit Regional Chamber launching this week is set on rebuilding Michigan’s automotive future.

MichAuto will serve as a statewide association designed to establish an automotive-centric economic development and advocacy platform, said Sandy Baruah, the chamber’s president and CEO.

“There’s no question we’ve lost out to states like Tennessee and Alabama,” he said. “They have been out there proactively recruiting businesses to their state on the auto platform they’ve built over the past 25 years while we’ve ignored ours. We’ve been afraid to tout our industry in the international marketplace in fears of seeming too myopic, but that must change.”

Nearly every new auto plant built in the U.S. in the past 10 years has been built in the South, including a $1 billion Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., and a $1.1 billion Hyundai plant in Montgomery, Ala.

The lack of a cohesive organization caused Michigan to lose out on these opportunities, Baruah said.

“No one is out there knocking on doors saying, “Come to Michigan, the water’s fine,’ ” he said. “We’re the auto capital of the world, and we need to protect what is ours.”

MichAuto is compiling a board of directors to oversee its operations, including Allan Gilmour, president of Wayne State University; Stephen Polk, chairman, president and CEO of R.L. Polk & Co.; Rodney O’Neal, CEO of Delphi Automotive plc; Chip McClure, CEO of Meritor Inc.; and Tom Manganello, partner at Warner Norcross & Judd LLP.

Baruah expects the addition of Detroit 3 executives to the board, as well.

Baruah said the Detroit Regional Chamber and its members will share assets to serve as a unified economic development voice to get prospective auto companies to locate in Michigan, and step aside and let individual counties offer abatements and tax incentives.

“We’re not here to supplant what counties are already doing,” he said. “Counties have an important role to play, but we can’t expect Wayne County or Oakland County to canvass the world for leads. We want that to be (MichAuto’s) job and become real advocates for the state as a whole.”

The group will also serve as a collective voice for smaller suppliers in Lansing that don’t have the resources to do so on their own, he said.

The chamber is currently seeking members and will formally unveil MichAuto on Thursday to media and industry executives at the Detroit Athletic Club. For more information, visit michauto.org.

Dustin Walsh: (313) 446-6042, dwalsh@crain.com. Twitter: @dustinpwalsh