Detroit Free Press
Feb. 18, 2023
When FLO was looking to expand its imprint in North America and considering locations for a new facility, the Canadian-based electric vehicle charging company decided its future needed to include metro Detroit.
FLO has a new facility in Auburn Hills, which opened in late 2022, and is currently producing Level 2 chargers. While currently ramping up, it will eventually create 730 direct and indirect jobs. It will have 133 jobs by the end of 2023, with a goal of manufacturing 250,000 EV chargers by 2028.
“Michigan is the heart of the auto industry,” said Louis Tremblay, CEO of the Quebec-based company. “We also appreciate the state’s diverse, abundant, and skilled workforce, business-friendly environment and global supply chain assets. ”
FLO recently announced it had developed a faster Level 3 EV charger model, FLO Ultra, due to be manufactured in Auburn Hills for the U.S. market. FLO’s facility in Shawinigan, Quebec, will also produce an EV for the Canadian market.
The company caught the attention of General Motors, which is partnering with it as it installs up to 40,000 Level 2 public chargers across the country by 2026 through the automaker’s Dealer Community Charging Program. The chargers for this program will primarily be built in Auburn Hills, once that facility is fully ramped up.
Besides the growing ecosystem for electric products, Michigan has other calling cards to entice companies. Among them: its proximity to Canada, three international airports (Detroit, Lansing, Grand Rapids), routes for shipping and receiving products via rail, water and truck, topped off by lower cost of living versus places like Silicon Valley or Boston.
That assessment comes from Richard Florida, author of the award-winning book, “The Rise of the Creative Class,” and his latest, “The New Urban Crisis.” He’s founder of Creative Class Group, a global consulting company focusing on communities that draw talent and tech jobs.
Florida’s now working with MICHauto, the mobility arm of the Detroit Regional Chamber, to assess communities that are having success in branding themselves as digital hubs. They intend to release a report at the chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference in May.
“It’s critical that Detroit and Michigan are positioned as a ‘tech hub,’” said Glenn Stevens Jr., executive director of MICHauto and vice president of Automotive & Mobility Initiatives at the chamber. “This is where Richard Florida’s work comes in. We are benchmarking places where tech hubs are growing and will make recommendations to our state’s leadership on actions Michigan must take. We have to align our population with technical and digital skills that are in demand.”
Stevens pointed to Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids as two places having success branding themselves this way. There’s room for improvement across the state, he added.
I talked with Mitch Landrieu, former mayor of New Orleans, who is serving as senior adviser to the president and White House infrastructure coordinator, about the tech challenges and opportunities before our region as he, too, has spent time here.
“I love Detroit and Michigan,” Landrieu told me Wednesday. “(Detroit) Mayor (Mike) Duggan invited me to come there (a while ago) to talk about how to move Michigan forward in this.”
The Biden administration is pouring a little fuel on the conversation when it announced Feb. 15 it was requiring EV chargers that will be part of the national EV charging network to be American made.
“The president wants to have 500,000 publicly funded chargers available under this plan, and that’s on top of ones people may have in their homes or at their offices,” Landrieu said.
Florida, who lives in Toronto, has family in Detroit and visits Michigan often.
In this post-pandemic world, with many still working remotely, “places like Traverse City, which used to be a nice vacation location, is now where people are moving to live and work.”
He believes keeping young people in Michigan after they graduate from colleges here is another major opportunity.
“When these people start having families and look at things like costs of schools and quality of life, Michigan has much to offer,” he said. “Getting that message out is important.”
For FLO’s Tremblay, putting its first facility outside of Canada in metro Detroit was a decision that boiled down to synergy.
“Gov. (Gretchen) Whitmer’s commitment to our industry is why we chose Michigan,” he said. “Her visionary investment in electric vehicles and charging stations sets an important example for other states to follow. Auburn Hills was the perfect location due to its reputation as a dynamic community committed to innovation and growth.”