An Immigrant’s Story

Cheong Choon Ng knows firsthand what it means it live in the land of opportunity

Page 34-35

By Melissa Anders

Cheong Choon Ng, 45, left his home in Malaysia and came to the United States in the 1990s to study mechanical engineering. He ended up staying in the United States after graduation and spent the next 16 years working in the automotive industry, most recently as a crash safety engineer for Nissan in Farmington Hills.

Then, as he played with his daughters in his Novi home one afternoon in 2010, life changed as he knew it.

Ng and his wife now run a multi-million dollar business selling one of the most popular toys in the world. Kids and teens are using Ng’s Rainbow Loom to create trendy rubber band bracelets and other creations. The bracelets have even been worn by the likes of Pope Francis, Kate Middleton and other celebrities.

Ng didn’t set out to become a millionaire toymaker; he stumbled upon the idea while trying to bond with his daughters, then ages 9 and 12.

“As a dad, you always want to show your kids you’re cool,” Ng said, noting that as his daughters grew older it became more difficult to bond.

“It’s just a simple idea discovered by accident,
but seeing the popularity become worldwide … It’s just
mind blowing.” — Cheong Choon Ng, President, Choon’s Designs

He decided to join in when he saw the girls making bracelets out of ponytail bands. He had linked similar rubber bands to make jump ropes as a child in Malaysia, but found his adult fingers were too big to make the intricate bracelets. So he improvised, fashioning a makeshift loom with a piece of wood and push pins. His daughters were intrigued by the different patterns they could make out of the loom, and soon Ng was making looms for their friends.

His daughter suggested he make a product for sale, so Ng sunk his $10,000 life savings – money meant for his daughters’ college educations – into launching the business.

He started from scratch, designing the loom on PowerPoint and making prototype models out of clay. He even learned the programming language to build his own website.

Ng went into production within about seven months and started assembling the looms and bags of rubber bands at home after ordering the pieces from China. His wife, daughters and friends all helped out with the assembly.

He pitched the product to local craft and toy stores, but struck out since they thought the bracelets were too difficult to make or weren’t interested in carrying something new. His daughters helped make YouTube videos to demonstrate how to make the bracelets, and they relied mostly on online sales. Their big break came when a franchise owner of the Learning Express Toys store called and asked for 24 looms. The owner featured the loom in classes at the store and soon increased her orders.

More stores picked up the loom, including Michaels Stores, which until August had exclusive rights to sell the looms among big box stores. Late last year, the company created the Wonder Loom, which is made in the United States and sold in Walmart and other nationwide stores. The Beadery in Rhode Island manufactures the product under license from Choon’s Designs.

Eventually they had to order the looms pre-assembled from their supplier, and by April 2013 they outgrew their two-car garage and basement. Ng’s company, Choon’s Design, now operates out of a 14,000 square-foot warehouse in Wixom.

The company made about $44 million in U.S. sales last year. Rainbow Looms are now sold in more than 40 countries, with international sales on pace to beat last year’s domestic sales. Choon’s Design employs about 22 people in the United States and about eight people spread among China, Malaysia and Japan. Ng’s brother runs the international office in China.

Choon, who quit his job at Nissan in October 2012, was named Ernst & Young’s Emerging Entrepreneur for the Michigan region this year, and Rainbow Loom won the best activity toy in the 2014 Toy of the Year Awards. He’s been featured in The New York Times, Fortune and several other publications worldwide. Television host Jimmy Kimmel even raised money for charity by auctioning off a patchwork suit made of Rainbow Loom bracelets.

“I’m actually very humbled by this experience,” Ng said. “Because looking back at all this, it’s just a simple idea discovered by accident, but seeing the popularity become worldwide … it’s just mind blowing.”

Melissa Anders is a metro Detroit freelance writer.

The Sound of Success

Jake Sigal’s approach to entrepreneurship spurs development in Ferndale

Page 30-31


Jake Sigal is the founder and former CEO of Livio, a music and technology startup that he created out of his guest bedroom in Ferndale. A fan of being his own boss, Sigal developed the first WiFi branded Pandora Internet radio and quickly earned millions in funds from investors and venture capital firms. In 2013, he sold the company to Ford Motor Co., where Livio is making a large impact in developing technologies for the automotive industry.

In 2008, you quit your job at Delphi to create the radio software company Livio. What obstacles did you experience while developing the company?

The largest obstacle we faced at Livio was ignoring the obstacles and focusing on the opportunities. Obstacles in business, as in life, are easy to spot and hard to miss. Comparatively, opportunities typically are only seen by the select few and easy to miss. Good entrepreneurs know which opportunities to go for and how to ignore, bypass, or just push through any obstacles along the way.

What were the reactions from your peers?

In 2008, it wasn’t cool to start a business. Everyone told me they were supportive, but it wasn’t until we successfully launched our Livio Radio featuring Pandora when I learned how crazy everyone thought my decision was back then.

How would you describe your philosophy as an entrepreneur?

As an entrepreneur, there are a few basic things I try to pass on to new entrepreneurs looking for advice. First, understand that being an entrepreneur is a decision. And like any decision, there are costs. Second, be passionate about what you are doing. The work is beyond difficult. The salary is minimal until you can get customers. Entrepreneurs find salvation through solutions for passionate problems. And lastly, help the people you work with. The Livio crew was more than a team, we were a family. Be a mensch.

What lessons have you learned from your experience founding Livio and later selling the company to Ford?

There’s way too much to cram into this article. All I can say is that it was a hell of a ride. A ride that ended for me with partnering with an amazing company that continuously changes the way that transportation and mobility are defined in the world.

How did the “One Detroit” movement come about?

Common sense: We are all in this together. We all fly out of the same airport. When I leave the state, and tell someone where I’m from, I start off with, “I’m from Detroit.” After one of my friends who moved to Detroit from Royal Oak tried to correct me that I wasn’t from Detroit, I responded that we are all “One Detroit!” Not everyone agrees with me, but the concept is picking up momentum.

How would you describe the collaborative culture in metro Detroit?

Improving. There is still quite a bit of one city vs. another. I’m starting to see economics driving the collaborative culture. There are some great organizations focused on collaboration including the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Automation Alley, Ann Arbor SPARK, the Detroit Regional Chamber and Detroit Venture Partners, to name a few. The list of companies and the overall collaborative culture is growing.

What are the advantages of founding a startup in metro Detroit compared to Silicon Valley?

Cost and talent. My first office in Ferndale for Livio was less per month than a parking spot in New York. I believe that Michigan has the strongest talent opportunity in the Midwest for STEM jobs. The University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Kettering and Lawrence Tech graduate some of the top engineers and scientists in the country. Hiring graduates in Michigan from Michigan is an easy sell. I also have a theory that getting people my age who want to come back to Michigan to be close to their families (as they are starting families of their own) is a big opportunity for businesses in One Detroit.

How important is it to break the rules as an entrepreneur?

I don’t wake up in the morning thinking about how many rules I’m going to break. I just focus on the solution for the problem I’m trying to solve. I don’t care how it was done in the past or what my competitors, peers or industry, say about my solution. I just follow my beliefs. For example, in 2008 investors told me not to manufacture a radio for Pandora. Pandora would be out of business in a year, and it would never take off. We know how that turned out.

What advice do you give to other entrepreneurs or those looking to develop their startup?

At a macro level: Know what you’re signing up for. Be prepared to do whatever it takes to win. Never conform. Never quit. At a micro level: Focus on getting your first customer instead of raising cash from investors.

You plan to create a mixed-use facility in Ferndale for residential units and second-stage companies. What are your goals for this project?

Create jobs in Ferndale. If we can do that, we’ll create more business from those jobs in Ferndale and do our part to contribute toward the greater One Detroit.

The Money Question

Overcoming challenges in entrepreneurial access to capital

Page 32-33

By Noah Purcell

As vice president and director of the Venture Development Organization within the community development financial institution known as Invest Detroit, Martin Dober sees a bright future for the city’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem. Prior to joining Invest Detroit, Dober was senior vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), where he directed technology investment programs under the state’s 21st Century Jobs Fund.

Dober sat down for a Q&A with the Detroiter to touch on the financial side of startup companies as well as other obstacles for entrepreneurs.

How is Michigan sitting in terms of entrepreneurs’ ability to access capital?

Especially when we’re talking about technology entrepreneurs, there’s more capital in the state of Michigan than there ever has been and more funds available for startup entrepreneurs than there ever has been. You look at the venture capital community in this state, and it’s grown from what was maybe a dozen firms in the early 2000s to now about 30 firms in this state. Where venture capital nationwide has been flat or declining in a lot of parts in the country, venture capital in Michigan has been on the upswing.

What comes to mind when you think about obstacles to entrepreneurship?

The first thing that I think about … is talent. It’s something that I learned back when I worked at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. A lot of the obstacles are driven by talent and finding experienced people.

Beyond just the talented employees of a company is finding talent that you can plug into – mentors and advisers, and people who you can talk to – people who have launched startups and have done it over and over again.

A second obstacle is navigating the tremendous amount of programs that are out there to help, and navigating the system and understanding how to use the resources that are out there and understanding what those resources are.

What is Detroit doing right?

While we certainly need to be more inclusive and welcoming of entrepreneurs, I actually think we do a pretty good job of it in Detroit. I hate to say this, but maybe even better than Ann Arbor in this respect. Ann Arbor is known, obviously, as having the most robust entrepreneurial ecosystem in the state, but I think in Detroit it’s pretty welcoming, so a lot of people can engage a lot easier in Detroit than in Ann Arbor. There is certainly a lot of work left to be done to make sure that the infrastructure that is here to support entrepreneurs is supporting a diverse set of entrepreneurs – women, minorities, immigrants – and that they all have access to the programs.

What impact will players like Invest Detroit have on the city going forward?

It takes a lot of resources to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem, but the more that we can do to bring together public and private entities to build that ecosystem, the better. We’ve come a long way, but even so, there’s a lot of work to be done even for Detroit to be anywhere near what Ann Arbor has done (in creating) the vibrancy of entrepreneurship that’s there. It’s going to take a lot of continuous work, and I think public-private partnerships can help make that happen quicker.

Noah Purcell is a metro Detroit freelance writer.

Detroit Regional Chamber’s Political Action Committee Releases Additional Endorsements for General Michigan Election

Additional endorsements, including Congressional, state and Wayne County races announced

DETROIT, September 26, 2014 –Today, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Political Action Committee (PAC) and Fed PAC Board of Directors announced additional endorsements in several key races at the national, state and county level for Michigan’s general election.

Earlier this year, the Chamber PAC announced its support for the re-election of Governor Rick Snyder, as well as its endorsement of Congressman Gary Peters for Michigan’s open U.S. Senate seat. Further, the Chamber endorsed a slate of candidates for Congress and the Michigan Legislature. In addition to the previous endorsements, the Chamber PAC endorses the following candidates.

Wayne County Executive

Sheriff Warren Evans

“Sheriff Evans showed in his primary campaign an ability to bring voters from across Wayne County together around a vision of economic prosperity and fiscal responsibility. He is the best candidate to work with Mayor Duggan, Brooks Patterson and Mark Hackel to move our region and state forward,” said Terence Thomas, chairman of the Detroit Regional Chamber PAC.

U.S. House of Representatives – 14th District

Mayor Brenda Lawrence

“As a mayor with a proven record of working with many of our members in Southfield and leading a successful city, I am confident that Mayor Lawrence will take those same skills to Washington to deliver results for the entire region,” said Brad Williams, vice president of government relations at the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Michigan Legislature

“The Chamber has a proud tradition of supporting legislators of both parties who are focused on results for the entire state. These candidates represent those values,” said Brad Williams, vice president of government relations for the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Michigan Senate

7th District – Representative Dian Slavens (D-Canton)

17th District – Representative Dale Zorn (R-Ida Twp.)

Michigan House of Representatives

3rd District – Wendell Byrd (D-Detroit)

10th District – Leslie Love (D-Detroit)

17th District – Rep. Bill LaVoy (D-Monroe)

19th District – Commissioner Laura Cox (R-Livonia)

21st District – Carol Ann Fausone (R-Canton)

25th District – Rep. Henry Yanez (D-Sterling Heights)

36th District – Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Twp.)

37th District – Christine Greig (D-Farmington)

49th District – Rep. Phil Phelps (D-Flushing)

52nd District – Rep. Gretchen Driskell (D-Saline)

60th District – Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo)

63rd District – Dave Maturen (R-Portage)

65th District – Brett Roberts (R-Eaton Rapids)

84th District – Edward Canfield (R-Sebawaing)

104th District – Larry Inman (R-Williamsburg)

The Chamber PAC Board of Directors regularly meets to identify and support pro-economic development candidates and policies that are critical to the Chamber’s public policy priorities. After careful consideration, the Chamber PAC Board of Directors made endorsements based on responses to a Chamber PAC survey, input from PAC members and personal interviews with leading candidates interested in the Chamber’s endorsement.

The Chamber PAC prides itself on being one of the most sought-after, bipartisan endorsements in Michigan and focuses in large part on candidates’ stances on business issues and the potential to represent the regional business community. For a full list of Chamber endorsements, visit the Chamber website.

About the Detroit Regional Chamber
Serving the business community for more than 100 years, the Detroit Regional Chamber is one of the oldest, largest and most respected chambers of commerce in the country. The Chamber’s mission of powering the economy for Southeast Michigan is carried out through economic development, education reform, regional collaboration and providing valuable benefits to members. For more information, please visit

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An Entrepreneurial Awakening

Detroit’s perfect storm of resources, interest and ability

Page 22-23

By Melissa Anders

The energy is palpable in Detroit.

The Motor City, once a hub for innovation that spawned the nation’s auto industry and countless other enterprises, is returning to its entrepreneurial roots and focusing on small businesses rather than relying on the industrial giants that for decades carried most of the state’s economic burden.

The area had in many ways become victim of its own success, becoming too comfortable with giant employers that were expected to provide jobs from cradle to grave, said Jim Boyle, senior program officer with the New Economy Initiative (NEI) in Detroit.

“But we have this really rich history of innovation in this region that we’re really trying to awaken and get people not only comfortable with becoming entrepreneurs and starting their own business and catalyzing their own ideas, but also having them realize that there is this network of support entities to help them do it,” he said.

Detroit is finding new life in a burgeoning startup culture as it pulls itself out of a painful recession that left thousands unemployed and some of its major employers and the city government bankrupt.

“We have this really rich history of
innovation in this region that we’re really
trying to awaken and get people not only
comfortable with becoming entrepreneurs
and starting their own business and
catalyzing their own ideas, but also having
them realize that there is this network of
support entities to help them do it.”
— Jim Boyle, Senior Program Officer,
New Economy Initiative

“We’re coming to sort of a perfect storm of resources, interest, experience and ability,” said Paula Sorrell, vice president of entrepreneurship, innovation and venture capital at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. “A lot of experienced entrepreneurs are taking notice of Detroit and experienced investors are setting up shop there.”

But that wasn’t the case in the early 2000s. The problem wasn’t a lack of ideas – some of the founders of Google and Groupon went to the University of Michigan – but they launched their companies outside of Michigan, in areas that had more robust entrepreneurial support systems.

“If you compare late 2011 to today, it’s night and day as far as the activity and the volume and the progress,” said Ross Sanders, executive director of Bizdom. “I think it took awhile for Detroit and the surrounding area to figure these things out, but I think that as a community we’ve made a ton of progress.”

Serial entrepreneur and Quicken Loans Chairman Dan Gilbert started Bizdom in 2007 to promote startups in Detroit and Cleveland. It provides tech-based startups with up to $125,000 in seed funding, mentoring and a collaborative workspace in exchange for an 8 percent equity share in the company and a commitment to headquarter the business in Detroit or Cleveland. Proceeds from the equity are reinvested into future businesses.

So far, 26 Detroit startups have entered the program and have created about 55 jobs since the current accelerator model launched in 2012.

Bizdom received funding from NEI, which has provided $82 million in grants to several nonprofit service providers that help small businesses. NEI started off as a special project of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and has grown to a $140 million program supported by more than 10 philanthropic foundations.

NEI also provided funding to TechTown Detroit, which assists with technology-based commercialization out of several universities and runs business accelerators for university students and tech companies not served by Bizdom. It also supports retail startups and other microenterprises.

But TechTown recognizes the concern about the creation of two Detroits: the increasingly vibrant downtown core that’s disconnected from still-struggling neighborhoods. Through its SWOT City program, TechTown provides entrepreneurship support and economic development assistance to various city neighborhoods. The program has resulted in 21 new jobs, 172 retained jobs, eight new businesses and 15 more in the pipeline.

“For me, it’s perhaps the most important piece of work we do because it really is the desire of TechTown and our board and stakeholders to carry the opportunity of the center to the neighborhoods, knowing fully that without doing that we’ll continue to have a fractured city,” said TechTown president and CEO Leslie Smith.

Boyle also views reaching out to the neighborhoods as a key step in Detroit’s transformation.

“In the neighborhoods, you have some of the most interesting, assertive small business entrepreneurs that you’ll find anywhere, but connecting them to the resources that they need to grow has been a missing link,” Boyle said.

Detroit’s next steps must also involve attracting additional funding sources and getting private industry more involved, Smith said. The lack of a fully engaged private sector is potentially the No. 1 barrier to realizing Detroit’s full potential, she said.

“The beauty of Detroit’s entrepreneurial experience is we’re building it as we go,” Smith said. “And you can sort of put your print on it and be a lasting piece of the history of this entrepreneurial movement … That is going to change our future.” Melissa Anders is a metro Detroit freelance writer.

Melissa Anders is a metro Detroit freelance writer.

Tech investments highlight region’s role in auto makeover

From: Crain’s Detroit Business

By Dustin Walsh

September 20, 2014

Southeast Michigan is at the center of the automotive industry’s reinvention, for the second time.

This time, though, that reinvention is all about the connected car and vehicle safety and efficiency features.

General Motors Co., only moments before CEO Mary Barra took the stage at Crain’s Detroit Homecoming event this past week, announced it would build a new “top-end, high-technology” Cadillac at its Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant next year.

GM has invested more than $1 billion in the plant over the past five years. Over the past several weeks, GM has installed tools and equipment for the new car, part of a $384 million investment. The plant employs about 1,600 workers on one shift, a GM spokesman told Automotive News.

At the Homecoming event, Barra dodged questions about the new Cadillac’s name or technology.

Earlier this month, GM announced that the 2017 Cadillac CTS would come equipped with vehicle-to-vehicle communication and adaptive cruise control, called “super cruise.” Adaptive cruise control autonomously controls the vehicle’s acceleration, steering and braking on the highway.

Barra made the announcement at the ITS World Congress 2014 on Sept. 7 at Cobo Center.

“No other suite of technologies offers so much potential for good, and it’s time to turn potential into reality,” Barra said at the event.

Many Southeast Michigan suppliers also continue to innovate with autonomous technologies, including Livonia-based TRW Automotive Holdings Corp., Auburn Hills-based Continental Automotive Inc., Northville-based IAV Automotive Engineering Inc. and many others.

Since 2010, automakers and suppliers have invested more than $12 billion in the state, according to data collected by industry group MichAuto. That’s following the economic downturn of 2008-09 that led to a slump in car sales, rampant job cuts in the auto sector, and federal bailouts.

Nowadays, however, auto is on the rebound.

Ford Motor Co. continues its plan to invest nearly $800 million in six of its plants in Southeast Michigan. Southfield-based supplier Lear Corp. invested more than $18 million in a new plant in Highland Park.

But it’s also technology, said Michael Robinet, managing director of automotive consulting for Southfield-based IHS Automotive Group LLC.

“There’s no doubt that the anchor for automotive technology is the continued infrastructure investments the automakers are placing in engineering, design and research,” Robinet said. “The need for more connected, lighter and safer vehicles has provided an enormous challenge to the industry, which has created new infrastructure investments to deliver … much of it here in metro Detroit.”

The ITS event, which brought together technology and automotive companies to Detroit for the first time, showed why Detroit belongs on the world stage, said Glenn Stevens, vice president of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s MichAuto organization and strategic development.

“There is no greater concentration of future mobility research done anywhere else in the world,” Stevens said. Stevens said the investment and attention the state and metro Detroit are receiving stems from the cohesive effort from the region’s stakeholders.

The regional chamber unveiled MichAuto, its statewide automotive economic development group, in 2012.

Last year, Gov. Rick Snyder named Nigel Francis, a former Mercedes-Benz AG vice president, as the state’s first car czar, in charge of aiding in economic development. Francis’ official title is senior automotive adviser for the state of Michigan and senior vice president at the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

While local government agencies have jelled, the federal government has possibly played the biggest role in the industry’s revitalization, Robinet said.

Investment include those like the $148 million American Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing Innovation Institute, which will locate this fall in a vacant 99,000-square-foot Corktown building.

The institute — led by the University of Michigan, Columbus, Ohio-based manufacturing technology 501(c)(3) nonprofit EWI and Ohio State University — will be funded with a $70 million, five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Defense and $78 million from a consortium of 70-plus universities, businesses and organizations.

Also, the UM Transportation Research Institute, along with the U.S. Department of Transportation, is in the midst of a more than $31 million study to analyze vehicle connectivity.

The UMTRI Safety Pilot program, which has existed since 2012, includes the deployment of cars, commercial vans, buses and motorcycles equipped with transmitters and data-logging devices to track position, acceleration and velocity to vehicles and infrastructure.

The program will outfit 9,000 vehicles for the study.

Much of the private-sector investment is to capitalize on the recovered car market — automakers are expected to sell more than 16 million cars this year.

Since 2010, automakers and suppliers have invested more than $12 billion in the state, according to data collected by MichAuto.

A large portion of that investment, however, has been to expand technologies and auto capabilities driven by regulation.

“There’s no doubt that technology used to be driven by consumers, but now it’s truly driven by legislation,” Robinet said.

Automakers must meet CAFE regulations of 54.5 mpg average across its fleet by 2025. This has led to innovations in lighter materials, a host of gas-saving technologies and alternative powertrains.

Plus, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is preparing to weigh in on safety regulations including vehicle connectivity, autonomous driving and more.

Leading the Innovation District

Page 20-21

By Noah Purcell

Henry Ford’s Nancy Schlichting discusses the importance of invention

Looking to harness, amplify and spread the economic power of areas like downtown and Midtown, Detroit is hoping to create an innovation district. Mayor Mike Duggan tapped Henry Ford Health System CEO Nancy Schlichting to chair a 17-person advisory committee.The group is tasked with developing the framework for formal designation of the district in the greater downtown as well as how the district will function as a hub for innovation throughout the city. Schlichting shared her thoughts with the Detroiter on how the innovation district could help shape Detroit’s future.

What is the vision for the innovation district’s impact on the city of Detroit and the region?

I think the bottom line is growth. If we have a new center of gravity for the city that really builds on the legacy of innovation in Southeast Michigan and Detroit, we should be growing people, jobs and economic diversification.

What is the potential impact for Detroit in the short term?

When you bring all of the people together, it really speaks to, at Henry Ford, what we think is two of our core competencies: one is innovation, the other is collaboration, the opportunity to build new relationships and new partnerships. The reason we got into innovation – in fact one of the things that drove it – was some of our collaboration efforts. Partners that we created with Wayne State, their school of engineering, and the College for Creative Studies (CCS). When you basically put different types of people together, that’s where innovation often comes from, so to create the innovation district really does enhance what we’re trying to do in the community and frankly gives us broader bandwidth to do it.

What instructive lessons will you bring based on the Henry Ford Innovation Institute’s experience in partnerships with organizations like the College for Creative Studies?

The cool thing about working with CCS was that you had young people who had never ventured into health care coming in with a brand new set of eyes, seeing things that we in that space couldn’t see anymore, and I think that is the excitement around this district.

The other thing that’s exciting, we have a focus on action, taking ideas and making them commercially applicable – that’s what our innovation institute is really about. We’ve had ideas at Henry Ford and a lot of intellectual property for years, and we drove things from the bench to the bedside quickly, but we didn’t think about ‘OK, this is a good idea. How do we commercially apply it with a business mindset and a focus on job creation?’ … Putting this group together and having an action plan and a strategy that we can embark on is pretty exciting.

Will people start to notice changes in the physical appearance of the innovation district?

I think so. There’s a reason this is called a district because when you look at the area it’s relatively confined and yet it represents a huge amount of jobs and talent and change. Not only the anchor institutions, but also some of the entrepreneurial activity that’s going on within the district. We want to create more density of that. We want to physically change the plans for real estate and land, so they, in fact, can promote these opportunities that we see coming down the road.

It’s about creating an atmosphere for innovation. Young people today, who are often entrepreneurial and focused on innovation, want to live in certain types of spaces. We’re beginning to create that with a lot of the new housing and real estate that is coming into the district, but we want to, again, accelerate that pace, so that physically it is one of the really attractive places across the world that people want to come to participate in and to create change.

Noah Purcell is a metro Detroit freelance writer.

MICHauto: Education, innovation and talent key to maintaining Michigan’s automotive status

From: MLive

By Dave Muller

September 23, 2014

DETROIT, MI – Innovation, education, talent. The words were repeated several times Tuesday, by businesses and civic leaders at the second MICHauto summit in Detroit.

The MICHauto summit is a day-long conference at the Cobo Center hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber and showcasing Michigan’s talent, innovation and supply chain in the automotive industry.

Chamber president and CEO Sandy Baruah described the MICHauto summit as the sole event focused on ensuring that Michigan is at the epicenter of the automotive world.
“MICHauto is Michigan’s first and only industry cluster association dedicated to promoting, retaining and growing the automotive industry in the great state of Michigan,” he said.

How important is automobile industry to Michigan?

General Motors executive vice president of global product development Mark Reuss relayed these numbers at the event, saying Michigan has:

13 OEM assembly plants, more than any other state;
35 components and materials plants, more than any other state;
63 of the top automotive suppliers, more than any other state;
70 percent of North America’s automotive engineering activity, and
More automotive engineers than any other state.
“The auto industry is essential to this state for people who grew up here like myself or moved here,” Reuss said.

State officials insisted they’re not sitting idle in the fight to keep the Pleasant Peninsula at the center of the automotive world.

Nigel Francis, senior automotive adviser for the state of Michigan, said the state has been positioning itself to leverage financial resources, including federal dollars, and “is shovel-ready” to put the money to use.

Francis noted the American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute opening in Detroit, and said the state has a proposal in for a composite materials institute. He said the MEDC has connected with OEMs and suppliers around the world to keep them up to date on Michigan’s status, that is, informing that it is not a lifeless relic of the auto bailouts and the Great Recession.

“The automotive industry in Michigan has gone through a very strong comeback and it’s driving the comeback of the state of Michigan,” Francis said.

On Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Rick Snyder acknowledged lightheartedly that a gubernatorial election looms in November. “Assuming I have a second term, my number one priority is talent,” he told the conference.

Snyder pointed to his adminstration’s Michigan Advanced Technician Training program, also known as MAT-Squared, which connects high school seniors and recent graduates with advanced technology companies to work with them while pursuing an associates’s degree.

Speaking to both talent and education, Snyder said there needs to be more emphasis on this kind of alternative post-secondary education, as people are often too focused on four-year degrees or beyond as all-or-nothing educational pursuits.

In general, Snyder also said Michigan needs to up its marketing game to the rest of the world.

“We’ve got to be louder and prouder about the stuff we’re doing,” he said. is a statewide organization founded by Tom Manganello, a partner at Warner Norcross & Judd who currently serves as its chair.

Detroit automakers vs. Hollywood filmmakers for top digital design talent

From: Automotive News

By Larry P. Vellequette

September 23, 2014

When it comes to hiring hot young car designers, Detroit’s automakers face tough competition from an unlikely but glamorous source: Hollywood.

Ralph Gilles, head of design for Chrysler Group, told an audience in Detroit this morning that both moviemakers and carmakers use the same powerful software to digitally design their products.

“Digital surfacers” — designers who use computers to create and virtually test new vehicles and components before they exist in the physical world — are the fastest growing segment of automaker design teams, Gilles said.

“Those are the virtual builders,” Gilles told several hundred people at the Detroit Regional Chamber 2014 MICHAuto Summit this morning.

“There is a whole pool of people that does nothing but digital surfacing,” Gilles said. “That job did not exist six or seven years ago.”

Gilles said digital surfacers are used extensively by filmmakers to digitally create sequences that would otherwise be impossible to film, such as those in big-budget science fiction film series such as Transformers and Star Wars.

“It’s exciting. It’s glamorous. I don’t know what the career path is in those companies long term, but initially, as a young designer, they get tempted away by that,” Gilles explained.

Such glamour makes attracting top creative talent to work on relatively mundane things such as midsize sedans more difficult, but not impossible, Gilles said.

“Some of them are car people from birth, and they can’t stop it. Even though they work in other industries, they have this nagging attraction to the auto industry and to do cars,” Gilles said.

The biggest thing the auto industry has going for it over film and animation is reality, Gilles explained.

“We’re converting [their designs] to reality. The cars we do, even though they start out [digitally], end up real,” Gilles said.

He pointed to the recently released Chrysler 200 as a car that was “100 percent” designed and tested on a computer before it was created physically.

The Chrysler design head said Hollywood and Detroit also compete for design students in another specialized — if much older — field: clay model makers.

Gilles said Chrysler still employs traditional clay model sculptors in its development process but is finding it difficult to locate designers with experience. The film industry also still uses clay model makers extensively, increasing demand for skills that are in short supply.

“There are only 50 clay modelers that work at Chrysler, and, I hate to say it, but it’s really a dying breed,” Gilles said. “That’s an unspoken beautiful career that’s here. It’s a very difficult skill set to develop.”

Mark Reuss: Education key to keeping Michigan at forefront of auto industry

From: MLive

By Dave Muller

September 23, 2014

DETROIT, MI – The auto industry is essential to Michigan for people who grew up here, such as General Motors executive vice president of global product development Mark Reuss, and for others who moved here, Reuss said Tuesday.

How essential is the auto industry to Michigan’s economy? Reuss threw out some numbers while giving a keynote address at the MICHauto summit, a day-long conference at the Cobo Center hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber and showcasing Michigan’s talent, innovation and supply chain in the automotive industry.

Reuss said Michigan has:

13 OEM assembly plants, more than any other state;
35 components and materials plants, more than any other state;
63 of the top automotive suppliers, more than any other state;
70 percent of North America’s automotive engineering activity, and
More automotive engineers than any other state.
Reuss also underscored how important the state is to GM. The Detroit-based automaker has nearly 46,000 employees in 36 locations throughout Michigan, making GM the state’s largest private employer.

Reuss said GM has invested more than $5 billion in the state since 2009, in addition to $1.5 billion paid in manufacturing wages paid in 2012 and more than $14 million given to charitable organizations in the state since 2008.

“So clearly Michigan means a lot to General Motors and to the auto industry as a whole,” Reuss said.

But just because the domestic auto industry was born in Michigan, that doesn’t mean it has to stay there, and other states continue to reach out for a piece of the pie, Reuss said.

Though he didn’t mention it during his address, GM announced Tuesday that the Cadillac brand is moving its headquarters to New York City. But Reuss played down the move later when speaking with the media. He said only about 50 employees are making the move, while Cadillac’s manufacturing and technology operations will remain in Michigan.

For Michigan, Reuss echoed a theme that was common throughout the day at MICHauto: Staying competitive begins with better education for youngsters.

“It may seem trite or even obvious, but if it’s so obvious, why aren’t we doing a better job of it?” Reuss said, before citing numbers that put the U.S. behind most other industrialized countries in math and science.

“We simply can’t afford to fall any further behind the rest of the industrialized world in educating our citizens,” he said.

Gov. Rick Snyder and Mayor Mike Duggan are also set to speak at MICHauto Tuesday. Chrysler Group LLC president and CEO of Motorsports Ralph Gilles spoke earlier in the day.