During the 2023 MICHauto on the Island at the Mackinac Policy Conference, academia, industry, and economic development experts gathered to discuss how Michigan can increase its competitiveness in attracting and retaining high-tech talent.
- Panelists: David C. Dauch, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, AAM
- Natalie King, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Dunamis Clean Energy Partners LLC
- Richard J. Koubek, President, Michigan Technological University
- Justin Robinson, Executive Vice President, Economic Development, Detroit Regional Partnership
- And John McElroy, Host, Autoline, as moderator.
When asked about the needs for this transition, AAM’s David C. Dauch said, “we need to double down on what we do great.” The state’s technology, innovation, manufacturing, and university corridor all excel. However, its lack of incentives as well as the negative perception of Detroit work against its growth. “The front porch of the state of Michigan is the City of Detroit. The whole perception of our state runs through Detroit.” An aligned and unified mobility plan, strong leadership, and R&D tax credits will help us build a strong reputation as a business-friendly state. “We either win together or lose together. And let’s not lose.”
Natalie King intentionally built her company, Dunamis Clean Energy Partners LLC, in the City of Detroit to honor its rich history of the labor force and community that has driven the automotive industry as an international leader. She was also committed to ensuring that the community that has the cohesiveness, grit, and endurance was not left behind in the “new industrial revolution.” As opportunities grow, she said, “it is vital that all communities are a part of that in order for it to have the significant impact that we want in the State of Michigan.” This involves going out into the community as well as inviting the community into workforce development, education, and training programs. With a primary focus on fostering K-12 talent, the industry can demystify the process and increase exposure to careers in the industry.
As President of Michigan Technological University, Richard J. Koubek has a lot of things pulling for his attention, but he keeps one question at top of mind: What is best for students is that the industry succeeds by winning on the national and international stage.
“For our university system to help you thrive and create world-class jobs for our students, that’s going to be the ticket,” he said.
In his conversations with students, Koubek discovered that they are open to accepting lower wages if they get to live in an attractive place, but only to a certain extent. “The students do want to stay here. We’re anxious as a higher education system to help you win because when you win, our students win, and when our students win as an institution because that’s our mission.”
As part of an organization whose mission is to attract technology, investments, and companies to the Region, Justin Robinson of Detroit Regional Partnership consistently sees talent as the number one driver of growth. However, we are experiencing low to no growth, with less than 0.5% annually. He emphasized the role of storytelling as a key component of driving growth. If people better understand why we’re great as a community, they will become better ambassadors for the state. Another factor is the inconsistency of initiatives over the years. “Business attraction doesn’t happen in one- or two-year cycles. This is a 10-, 15-, 30-year commitment to do this work on behalf of the Region.”
How do we amplify the best parts of Michigan and its opportunities for residents? Robinson recommended that one entity take responsibility for choosing the right stories and sharing them on a wide scale. To do this, it will take big investments in marketing and communications. Dauch added that it will be important to debunk misconceptions about the manufacturing industry, which is not the dark and dirty experience that most people picture. “It starts at home with parents encouraging their kids that it’s not bad to have a factory job.”