The Detroit News
Dec. 8, 2022
Detroit — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday announced a $2 million grant to support initiatives aimed at bolstering Michigan’s pipeline of high-tech talent.
Whitmer announced the grant to MICHauto — the Detroit Regional Chamber’s automotive, mobility and technology cluster association — while speaking at a summit hosted by the organization that focused on accelerating Michigan’s tech-talent future.
The grant will fund projects aimed at expanding Michigan’s high-tech workforce and building talent pipelines for the state’s auto, mobility and tech sectors.
“These projects will help us build the workforce of the future, compete for high-skilled workers and create good-paying jobs,” Whitmer said. “In a state where one out of five jobs is mobility-related, these projects will leverage our greatest asset — our people — and make Michigan more competitive and improve the future of our economy and communities.”
The Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification will work with MICHauto, in partnership with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, to launch a pilot project with Kettering University and Michigan Technological University. That program will “engage, track, guide and retain” students in statewide high school FIRST Robotics, Square One Network and VEX programs.
The funding also will support a survey of students, parents, teachers and counselors about career paths in Michigan’s auto/mobility industry. The results will inform industry attraction and retention strategies. Another project will analyze why high-tech talent tends to concentrate in specific locations and devise recommendations on how Michigan can be more competitive.
And the grant will support the establishment of an organization to create more “industry connectivity” in communities across Michigan, in a bid to expand technology clusters across the state so that residents have the same opportunities for high-tech careers regardless of where they live.
“MICHauto is grateful for this funding and the opportunities it provides to advance our state’s competitiveness by developing, attracting and retaining talent professionals to support our signature industry’s high-tech evolution,” said Glenn Stevens Jr., executive director of MICHauto and vice president of automotive and mobility initiatives at the chamber.
The grant funding will come from the Mobility Futures initiative, which is led by the Michigan Legislature; Whitmer’s office; the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy; the MEDC; and the Michigan Department of Transportation.
Meanwhile, the MICHauto summit featured discussions with automotive, mobility and technology industry leaders on how Michigan can do a better job fostering, attracting and retaining high-tech talent.
One obstacle that featured prominently in the discussion: Michigan is losing population. And numerous speakers pointed out that in a competitive global environment, Michigan need look no further than its border with Ohio for an example of a state that is outperforming it in terms of attracting tech investments. Ohio has a statewide nonprofit initiative called OhioX whose mission is to establish the Buckeye state as a technology hub.
“(Venture capital)-backed startups are really a micro economy in our state, that need to become a pillar of the macro economy if we really want to move Michigan forward,” said Trista Van Tine, executive director and co-founder of the Michigan Founders Fund.
Several speakers emphasized the importance of culture, and said that Michigan must do a better job of promoting itself as a place where innovation is happening — and of supporting entrepreneurs.
Such support includes creating better places to live through investments in things like public transit and affordable housing, said Dug Song, who co-founded Duo Security, a multibillion-dollar cybersecurity company that is based in Ann Arbor: “Place matters,” he said.
Song contended that Michigan must “create some better mechanisms for how we do planning here. … What we have to compete on is how we put together a plan that can have the right kind of impact. And the way we do that is making sure we have the right stakeholders involved from Day One.”
Ronia Kruse, president and chief executive officer of professional services firm OpTech and co-founder of tech-focused nonprofit Digital Lakes, said that while engineering students tend to stay in Michigan to pursue automotive careers, the state must do more to highlight IT and high-tech opportunities.
“It really is a branding issue. I think there’s a lot of opportunity here in Michigan. But we can’t be so automotive-focused,” she said. “Technology is embedded in every company and every industry. And so we really need to showcase all the technology that’s happening across all the industries — in healthcare, in finance. There’s so much technology that’s happening and people just don’t know about it.”