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Official: Auto industry perfect platform to help diversify Michigan’s economy

By Michael Wayland

Diversifying Michigan’s economy doesn’t mean giving a cold shoulder to the automotive industry, according to Sandy K. Baruah.

In fact, the Detroit Regional Chamber president and CEO believes the auto industry is the key component to spurring economic diversification in the Motor City, southeast Michigan and throughout the state.

“There’s no better platform to diversify an economy than this very complex, very high-tech and growing automotive sector,” he told Monday. “When we look at the automotive sector we’re not just thinking of just the four-wheel wonders.”

Baruah said the auto industry nowadays is just as much about technology and engineering as it is manufacturing, which is why officials launched MICHauto late last year.

The group — overseen by an advisory board of some of the state’s top auto execs — is designed to work closely with other industry leaders and economic development agencies around the state to help Michigan’s auto industry compete with other regions around the country and around the world that are building automotive hubs.

“It’s a brand of Michigan,” said Chip McClure, CEO of Meritor Inc. and member of MichAuto. “As you look at it going forward, I think it’s going to be a very strong brand – both from an engineering and automotive side, as well as a broader side even outside of automotive.”

MICHauto is one of the most notable achievements of the chamber’s “2011 to-do list” that was set during the 2011 Mackinac Policy Conference in June, according to officials.

The chamber made its first to-do-list during the 2010 Mackinac Policy Conference as a way to show officials from the public and private sectors what progress has been made in regards to concerns brought up at the annual gala of politics and business executives.

The 2011 list ranged from working with a Harvard professor to better identify the state’s most promising industries to improving the relationship between the state – particularly the east and west regions.

This week, the chamber released an updated to-do list identifying its accomplish thus far – MICHauto being one of them.

Other accomplishments included collaborating with the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce on numerous activities, including two business delegations; working with delegates from Washington, D.C. on ways to spur economic growth in Michigan; supporting local business leaders and bringing them all together with public officials; and launching a mentorship program to connect business leaders with college students.

“We’ve made pretty good progress on all seven items, but there will be a few things we’ll focus on (before this year’s conference),” Baruah said.

The 2012 Mackinac conference will once again have a heavy automotive presence, according to Barauh.

Announced speakers at this year’s conference — from May 29-31 at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island — include Ford Motor Co. Chairman Bill Ford Jr., Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas L. Friedman and Roger S. Penske, founder and chairman of Penske Corp.

“The Conference focuses on how to position Michigan to prosper in the global economy – and clearly the auto industry will continue to play a vital role in embracing the realities of globalization and building a roadmap to prosperity for our city, region and state,” said Henry Ford Health System CEO Nancy Schlichting, who is chairwoman of the 2012 Mackinac Policy Conference, in a release.

Here is the 2011 Detroit Regional Chamber “To-do List”:

  1. Improve collaboration between East and West Michigan businesses and key institutions.
  2. Incorporate southeast Michigan’s leading and most promising clusters into the regional economic development strategy.
  3. Work with Harvard Professor Michael Porter to convene the Great Lakes governors to accelerate the development of a Great Lakes “super regional” strategy.
  4. Convene relevant institutions and leaders to drive the “Outsource to Detroit” initiative.
  5. Convene business, labor and educational leaders to develop and document the factual benefits of doing business in a globally competitive Michigan, and the benefits of the global marketplace to Michigan.
  6. Establish a mentorship initiative engaging graduates of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Leadership Detroit program.
  7. Education: Support the governor’s education agenda and the new education achievement system.