MICHauto Promotes States Auto Industry

April 20, 2007
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DETROIT — Though it's still in its organizing stages, the new automotive industry cluster association known as MICHauto is geared up. The group's primary objectives are to help recruit and retain top talent to Michigan's automotive industry and to help grow Michigan's position in auto research, development and manufacturing.

MICHauto is not trying to replicate what other organizations are doing, said founder Tom Manganello, chair of the auto industry group at Warner Norcross & Judd. What it's trying to do is create a forum that makes it easier for people in Michigan's auto industry to communicate, collaborate and change.

Retention and recruitment of talent is one focus. Manganello said there is a fast-growing concern over the recruitment and retention of top talent that is common to almost everyone he has talked to. It's difficult to recruit people to the state of Michigan and it's even more difficult to recruit them to the automotive industry, he said. It's also difficult to keep those that are here from leaving, he observed.

MICHauto is planning a series of meetings on engineering recruitment, technology recruitment and retention, and management recruitment and retention in the coming months.

Collaboration is a second focus. Manganello, who oversees Warner Norcross & Judd's automotive industry practice, said that, to an outsider, Michigan's automotive industry seems almost cloistered; it's difficult to gain entry into the industry's culture and network in Michigan.

He thinks that's indicative of a much broader problem that Michigan has: It has been a siloed state for years and years, he said. There has been the GM silo, the Ford silo, the Chrysler silo, the UAW silo and the new domestic silo. On top of that, the universities are separated from industry, and the community colleges are separated from the universities.

"When people are coming to a state to locate a business here or to do business here, they're not focused on the individual silos; they're looking at industry as a group and wondering how that industry can help them and how they can help that industry. How can we make this a mutually beneficial arrangement?"

MICHauto envelops all segments of the auto industry and is open to anyone who participates in the industry either directly or indirectly — original equipment manufacturers, suppliers, economic development agencies, universities, colleges, government units, economic development agencies, and bankers, attorneys, consultants and service providers that work with auto-related firms.

Everybody talks about collaboration, but nobody wants to share technology, Manganello said. But there are some great examples of collaboration that are exceptions, such as the two World Engine plants in Dundee where DaimlerChrysler, Hyundai Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. are building a family of 1.8-liter, 2.0-liter and 2.4-liter engines they jointly developed.

"That is a classic example of collaboration — where three companies are sharing technology and best manufacturing practices, and they're all reaping the benefits," he said.

Collaboration among educational institutions is needed, as well, in Manganello's opinion. Among Michigan colleges and universities, there is no routine procedure for the engineering and business schools to come together to discuss their challenges, let alone come together with industry to discuss the challenges, he said. MICHauto is trying to pull together all the technical, educational, supplier and consulting resources in the state and encourage them to collaborate and champion the achievements of Michigan's auto industry.

The organization's third focus is economic development. MICHauto intends to serve as a "welcome wagon" for companies that are coming to Michigan for automotive-related business. Last week, for instance, MICHauto hosted the Society of Automotive Engineers China Automotive Suppliers event in Detroit and promoted Michigan as a site for in-bound investment.

Since its formation in January, MICHauto has been engaged in a low-key membership drive, meeting with people one-on-one. It has about 20 members presently, including Goodyear, General Motors, 3M Automotive and WayneCounty, and the group is talking with other Tier 1 companies about joining, as well. About 20 others have expressed an interest in joining.

"There is no industry that is more high tech than the auto industry; autos have got the most advanced electronics of any product in the world," Manganello said. "The auto industry has a lot going for it, but I think we have to do a better job of selling ourselves as an industry. The industry has to stand up for itself and pull together the resources of our state."     

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