Why Austin, Texas Wants to Be An Autos City (Yes, Austin) via Forbes

By Micheline Maynard originally for Forbes

When you think of Austin, Texas, the first things that come to mind are probably the University of Texas, food, music, and the South by Southwest festival. But now, Austin wants you to think of it as an automotive capital.

Isn’t Austin too deep in the heart of Texas? How can it compete with Detroit, let alone other established Southern auto cities like Lexington, Ky, Nashville, Tenn., Jackson and Tupelo, Miss.? And isn’t an auto industry focus at odds with Austin’s hip reputation?

Austin’s tactic is to home in on companies that are developing advanced technology, explains Adrianna Cruz, vice president of global corporate recruitment for the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

It’s using the Formula One race in November, which will be held in Austin, to draw attention to its bid to be included in the nation’s automotive centers. Although there have been some doubts about whether the race will happen, tickets are now on sale and it’s set to be  the first F1 race in the U.S. since 2007, when the circuit last came to Indianapolis.

“The auto industry is going through a change and a shift. There’s a focus on battery technology and making things cleaner and safer,” Cruz says. “If there’s a location to look at as we discuss how to do things differently – how do we make cars smarter, safer, better for environment – Austin wants to be on the leading edge of those discussions.”

Cruz says a series of companies have already invested in automotive technology projects there, including US Farathane, a leading source of plastics for the auto industry. It announced in December that it is opening a 250,000 square foot facility in Austin, creating 228 jobs.

Austin has operations by Freescale Semiconductor, which has a long track record with General Motors and ActaCell, started as a spinoff from U-T, which is developing the next generation of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles.

It also has SMSC, a multi-media network company that supplies European carmakers including Audi, BMW, Land Rover and Volvo; and TASUS, an injection-molding company. In addition to all that, SXSW will feature a series of speakers on electric vehicles and other automotive topics this year.

Cruz says these companies are turning out to be “the best ambassadors” for the city’s claim on automotive expertise. Her office often asks representatives from these companies to meet with firms that are considering investments in Austin. “What we hear over and over again is that companies come with an expectation, and what they find in Austin exceeds their expectation,” Cruz says.

To be sure, Austin has a lot of competition in staking its automotive ground. As our Changing Gears public media project reported, Louisville and Lexington recently teamed up to establish an advanced manufacturing cluster, and the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce has launched MICHAuto, an effort to stress the state’s automotive prowess.

But Toyota’s San Antonio assembly plant, 74 miles southwest of Austin, showed the state can be an active player on the automotive scene, said Cruz. She maintains the city is in a prime location between Detroit and car companies’ operations in Mexico, as well as Latin America.

It also doesn’t hurt that Austin is already seen as one of the country’s most attractive cities. “Austin has a lot of wonderful things going for it: a great place to live raise a family, the school system is very good, people are comfortable and happy in their work, and at night they may go play in a band,” Cruz says.

Michigan Business Climate Better Than Reported

In a January 15th Detroit Free Press article titled “Michigan’s bad business climate reputation is hard to discard,” Tom Walsh reflects on an article in the January 2012 edition of Site Selection magazine.  Site Selection reported on a survey of 12 site consultants at the Mid-America Economic Development Council (MAEDC) conference held in December 2011.  Based on that survey, Indiana, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa were ranked as having the best business climates in the Midwest; Michigan ranked last.  Walsh quotes one of the consultants as saying, “Michigan’s national reputation is very poor and has been for a long time…Michigan could do a complete reversal of course, and it would still take 10 years to reverse its reputation.”

First of all, the consensus of 12 site consultants should be taken with a grain of salt.  The collective opinion of 12 individuals is a very limited survey sample from which to draw broad conclusions, even about subjective perceptions.  As Sandy Baruah poignantly noted in Walsh’s article, perception and reality often differ.

The reality of the situation in Michigan is considerably more optimistic and other Site Selection rankings and surveys confirm this.  Site Selection administered a similar business climate survey two months prior to the 12-man MAEDC survey, collecting 150 responses.  This survey, the annually published Executive Survey of Site Selectors (ESSS), ranked Michigan 21st in perception of overall business climate.

Moreover, when Site Selection paired the subjective ESSS rankings with five objective data points to compile their 2011 Top State Business Climate Rankings, Michigan’s rank improved to number 15, an honorable showing considering what our state has gone through in the past 10 years.   In contrast to the perceptions of the 12-consultant survey, only two other Midwest states ranked higher.

Furthermore, one of the five data points in the 2011 rankings considered Michigan’s 2011 tax climate.  Considering that Michigan has since replaced its Michigan Business Tax (MBT) with a new flat 6% business tax, as Walsh points out, there is a real possibility that Michigan might crack the Top 10 in 2012.  And cracking the Top 10 will not take 10 years to reverse Michigan’s reputation.

The takeaway here is obvious: the general consensus of 150 site selectors, backed by data, carries much more weight than that of 12 site selectors without data, and the latter should be paid limited or no attention in light of the former.  Michigan has had its misfortunes, but the time has come to focus on the overwhelming number of good things happening in this state, including improved rankings in Site Selection magazine and national recognition from organizations like the Brookings Institute.  A little research will refute much of the bad publicity that’s out there and open the eyes of many to the opportunities that lie in Michigan.

Detroit Regional Chamber Hosts Governor for State of the State Address to the Business Community

DETROIT, January 20, 2012 – In its continued effort to promote collaboration and drive economic development, the Detroit Regional Chamber again partnered with Governor Rick Snyder to increase  dialogue between the public and private sectors. With approximately 275 area business and community leaders attending the members-only event, the Governor presented a State of the State Address to the Business Community at the MGM Grand Detroit.

Following the address, the audience submitted questions to the Governor as part of a question-and-answer session moderated by Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Sandy K. Baruah. The event came nearly eight months after the 2011 Mackinac Policy Conference during which the Governor appeared on stage multiple times throughout the three days.

“From our budget, to our tax code, to the structure of government, to our approach to economic development, to the image of Michigan in the international marketplace, our Governor has successfully implemented change,” Baruah said as he introduced the Governor.

Following Baruah’s remarks the Governor addressed the crowd, discussing the progress Michigan had made over the past year and laying out his plan for the upcoming year during the hour-long event, which was sponsored by Munder Capital Management.

As he did in the State of the State Address to the Legislature Wednesday night, the Governor reiterated his intention to make the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) a reality. He called for more vocal support from the business community for the NITC.

“The bottom line with the bridge is about international trade and jobs,” said Snyder, who re-emphasized that the bridge would not be paid for by Michigan tax dollars despite what special interests have argued in the media.

“We should build the bridge, and that’s where I need you – to speak up,” Snyder said when posed a question about what the business community could do to support the NITC.

The Governor also stressed the importance of an increased statewide investment in transportation infrastructure, particularly road and bridges, to the economic health of the state.

“It’s time for a Southeast Michigan regional transportation system – let’s get something done,” Snyder said.

He stressed that too often discussions about transportation legislation take a short-term approach that faisl to produce the results Michigan needs, leaving the next generation to address the problem.

In explaining his vision for Michigan, the Governor said the state has a great opportunity to move forward by continuing to adopt the mantra of “relentless positive action.” He cited the repeal of the onerous Michigan Business Tax as an example of a major stride the state made over the past year.

Highlighting talent development as another crucial factor in Michigan’s ability to compete globally and attract businesses to Michigan, Snyder also said he’s looking forward to increasing efforts to better align students and education with careers that are in demand.

“(In the past) It’s about career planning,” he said, emphasizing there’s a need to help students get a clearer picture of all careers that are available.

“We didn’t give our kids the tools to understand where most of the jobs are. We need to fix that,” he added.

As part of his address, the Governor also said he was going to look at reforming the personal property tax, with a focus on industrial equipment. Other key topics included education reform, right-sizing governments and obesity.

Detroit Regional Chamber’s Response to Gov. Snyder’s State of the State Address

DETROIT, January 18, 2012 – Following today’s State of the State Address, Detroit Regional Chamber President and CEO Sandy K. Baruah applauded Governor Rick Snyder’s continued effort to improving Michigan’s business climate to spur job creation and making necessary, and at times, difficult choices. The Governor’s Address came just hours after the Department of Technology, Management and Budget reported that Michigan’s jobless rate fell 0.5 percentage points in December and is experiencing some of the fastest employment recovery in the nation.

“Governor Snyder is working hard to move Michigan in a positive direction, and we support his focus on collaboration and his efforts to build a business climate that attracts investment and talent,” Baruah said. “The Governor’s leadership on issues such as the personal property tax, infrastructure improvements including the New International Trade Crossing, and education reform will help drive economic development in Michigan. These issues must be addressed for Detroit and Michigan to be competitive in the global economy.”

A long-time supporter of a new bridge linking Detroit and Canada, the Detroit Regional Chamber continues to aggressively advocate on behalf of efforts to move the bridge project forward. The Detroit Regional Chamber also favors improvements to other key infrastructure such as roads that greatly impact trade, commerce and quality of life.

“The NITC is crucial to Michigan’s economic growth and remains one of the Chamber’s top public policy issues,” Baruah said. “The bridge, as well as improving other transportation infrastructure, is paramount to the economic vitality of our city and state. From well maintained roads throughout the state to viable transit options for residents of the city of Detroit, Michigan must ensure we have the transportation infrastructure available to support our communities and businesses.”

As part his State of the State Address, the Governor also emphasized the importance of ensuring military veterans can join the workforce.

“Our brave men and women in uniform deserve more opportunities to rejoin the workforce once they are done serving our country,” Baruah said. “We look forward to working with the Governor to address this issue.”

The Detroit Regional Chamber plans on including the topic of employment of veterans in the dialogue at the 2012 Mackinac Policy Conference.

The Detroit Regional Chamber will also be hosting the Governor for a special State of the State Address to the Business Community this Friday, Jan. 20 at 7:30 a.m. at MGM Grand Detroit. Media who want to attend the event should contact Jim Martinez at 313.348.1323.

About the Detroit Regional Chamber

With over 20,000 members and affiliates, that employ over three quarters of a million workers, the Detroit Regional Chamber is one of the largest chambers of commerce in the country. The Chamber’s mission is carried out through business attraction efforts, advocacy, strategic partnerships and providing valuable benefits to members. For more information, please visit detroitchamber.com.

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Fareed Zakaria and Fromer Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt to Speak at 2012 Mackinac Policy Conference

DETROIT, January 19, 2012 – Today, the Detroit Regional Chamber announced that noted broadcast and print journalist Fareed Zakaria and former Utah Governor and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael O. Leavitt will be keynote speakers at the 2012 Mackinac Policy Conference, held Tuesday, May 29 through Friday, June 1.

“This year’s Conference will again feature a top-notch lineup of thought-provoking speakers as we work to better position Michigan to compete globally,” said Chief Executive Officer of Henry Ford Health System Nancy Schlichting, who is serving as the chair of the 2012 Mackinac Policy Conference. “We are excited to focus on both international and health care innovation as we build a collaborative culture to drive economic development and investment in Michigan.”

As host of Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN, Editor-at-Large at TIME Magazine and a regular columnist for The Washington Post, Zakaria is highly regarded as one of the most influential foreign policy voices in the world. His international best-seller “The Post-American World” covers the growth of China, India and many other countries. His previous New York Times best-seller “The Future of Freedom” has been translated into 20 languages.

Following his three terms as Governor of Utah from 1993 to 2003, Leavitt served in the Cabinet of President George W. Bush as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (2003-2005) and Secretary of Health and Human Services (2005-2009). He is currently founder and chairman of Leavitt Partners where he advises clients in the health care and food safety sectors.

“One of the enduring lessons of globalization is the need to constantly adapt to the rapidly evolving marketplace – and the regions that do so will be the ones that succeed economically,” said Sandy K. Baruah, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Detroit Regional Chamber. “Fareed Zakaria and Governor Leavitt can speak directly to the culture of innovation and collaboration that Detroit and Michigan must adopt to thrive in the 21st century global economy.”

Zakaria and Leavitt join a speaker lineup that already includes New York Times Foreign Affairs Columnist and best-selling author Thomas L. Friedman. The 2012 Mackinac Policy Conference vision is to create a globally competitive, financially attractive business environment in Michigan to increase economic development through collaboration, visionary ideas and partnerships with business, government and philanthropy. Registration for the Conference is already open and available at mpc.detroitchamber.com. Island hotels begin taking reservations on Feb. 1, 2012.

Detroit Regional Chamber 2012 Mackinac Policy Conference

The Mackinac Policy Conference – the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual event – brings together business and government to re-energize Michigan. Since 1981, the Conference has provided access to Michigan’s top business professionals, legislative leaders, corporate CEOs, entrepreneurs and veteran regional champions. Over 1,500 attendees will gather for the 2012 Conference, held May 29 – June 1 at the historic Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. For more information, please visit mpc.detroitchamber.com.

About the Detroit Regional Chamber

With over 20,000 members and affiliates, that employ over three quarters of a million workers, the Detroit Regional Chamber is one of the largest chambers of commerce in the country. The Chamber’s mission is carried out through business attraction efforts, advocacy, strategic partnerships and providing valuable benefits to members. For more information, please visit detroitchamber.com.

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Trends Emphasize Need for MICHauto

In the week or so since the launch of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s MICHauto initiative, the need for an organized effort to fight to keep Detroit and Michigan’s position as the national and global automotive epicenter has never been more evident. With news of the United States potentially emerging as the industry’s profit center and General Motors expected to once again become the world’s top auto seller, competition will only intensify nationally for the investment, technology, talent and jobs created by the automotive industry.

Just a few short years after many critics were leaving the auto industry for dead, it has come roaring back. The questions revolving around the domestic auto industry are no longer if it can survive, but where in the United States it will thrive. As other regions, particularly the South, ramp up their attraction efforts, there is a competition under way that Michigan cannot afford to lose.

MICHauto is crucial to ensuring Detroit and Michigan remain the global automotive epicenter. A reminder of Michigan’s stature as a hub of the international auto industry came recently as Hyundai announced it will invest $15 million in its R&D facility near Ann Arbor.

Become a member of MICHauto to join the fight to keep the auto industry right where it started – in the Motor City.

MICHauto on The Craig Fahle Show

Chamber President and CEO Sandy K. Baruah discusses the launch of MICHauto with Craig Fahle as the North American International Auto Show opens to media in Detroit.

By The Numbers

The January Detroiter covered the story of the auto industry’s resurgence as well as its great potential to help drive economic development in the Detroit region and all across Michigan. This piece from the magazine, “Michigan’s Auto Industry By the Numbers” includes key data that reflects the overall scope and impact of Michigan’s signature industry.

Detroit Regional Chamber launches initiative to attract automotive business to Michigan via:mLive.com

by Michael Wayland originally for MLive.com

In an effort to keep Michigan the “epicenter for the global automotive industry,” the Detroit Regional Chamber has formed MichAuto.

Chamber CEO and President Sandy Baruah said the new group will work closely with other economic development agencies — and industry leaders themselves — to help Michigan’s auto industry compete with other regions around the country and around the world that are building automotive hubs.

“While it is exceptionally clear to all of us that we need to diversify our economy in the great state of Michigan, let’s not do that at the expense of our state’s number one innovator, the automotive industry,” he said at an event Thursday night formally launching the new group.

By collaborating with economic development organizations, MichAuto hopes to use the automotive industry as a platform to drive economic diversification and compete with other states that have attracted automotive business.

Officials said nearly every new auto plant built in the U.S. in the past 10 years has been built in the southern United States.

“If Michigan is going to continue its role as the undisputed epicenter for the global automotive industry, we’re going to have to make some noise,” Baruah said. “We’re going to have to fight for it and we’re going to have to be vocal advocates.”

A MichAuto Advisory Board will serve as strategic advisers with oversight of the association’s direction and activities. Members include Rodney O’Neal, CEO of Delphi Automotive plc; Chip McClure, CEO of Meritor Inc.; Allan Gilmour, president of Wayne State University; Stephen Polk, chairman, president and CEO of R.L. Polk & Co.; and Tom Manganello, partner at Warner Norcross & Judd LLP.

Manganello said Michigan has somewhat taken the automotive industry for granted, and to have MichAuto, a “one-stop shop” for automotive investments, will help the entire state.

“Having a one-stop shop opportunity to just plug-in to the automotive network for Michigan is really important,” he said. “There’s a lot of other states out there that are really just trying to eat our lunch.”

The chamber is currently seeking MichAuto members that do business in Michigan or would like to do business in the state.

Email Michael Wayland: MWayland@mlive.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MikeWayland

original article