Print Friendly and PDF

September 2012: A Good Fit

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel discusses Michigan’s defense industry

By James Martinez

Pages 10-11

County Executive Mark Hackel in front of a defense vehicle at TACOM LCMC.

Elected as Macomb County Executive in November 2010, Mark Hackel has had a strong focus on economic development, including the automotive industry and advanced manufacturing. With Macomb County’s existing assets, the defense industry is a crucial component of those efforts. In this question-and-answer with the Detroiter, Hackel discusses the defense industry and his efforts to actively promote the county as the defense capital of the Midwest.

What makes Macomb County and Michigan such a good fit for the defense industry?

Companies that want to get ahead locate close to the action.

It’s our collective ability to innovate, create and produce goods.  We have an unequalled expertise in developing the world’s most advanced and lethal ground combat vehicles. President Franklin D. Roosevelt realized our strength and ability to retool to begin building tanks in Warren more than 70 years ago when he turned to Chrysler Corporation when our allies were struggling to win a war.  This lead to the establishment of strong assets including TACOM, TARDEC, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, several world-renowned prime defense contractors, over 500 area defense contractors, and a vibrant workforce of engineers and skilled labor.

In fact, a Defense Industry Strategy Taskforce has been developed through a partnership between Macomb County, Macomb Community College and the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan.  The purpose of this task force focuses on identifying, prioritizing and developing strategies to sustain and enhance the regional defense industry.

What type of impact does the defense industry have on Macomb County?

Macomb County represents the largest volume dollar of defense contracting on a per county basis in the state of Michigan, and is home to approximately 65 percent of the defense businesses in the state.  Over the last 10 years, defense contractors within Macomb County have been awarded contracts from the Department of Defense totaling more than $26 billion.  Primary contracts range upwards from a small moving company to the multi-million dollar contracts awarded to our locally-based defense suppliers such as General Dynamics Land Systems.

Every one of these contracts is part of a vast supplier network that helps to create jobs and investment in Macomb County.

What type of defense jobs do you see Macomb County supporting moving forward? What type of workforce will it take to support those jobs?

The Southeast Michigan region has a strong talent pool of engineers and dedicated professionals with a deep knowledge in new technology.  The jobs of the future will focus on engineering, robotics, cyber security, and modeling and simulation.

The recent summit, Seeing 2020: Ensuring Skills Preparedness in the Southeast Michigan Defense Sector, hosted by Macomb Community College demonstrated that we are proactively creating the workforce of tomorrow through collaboration within the defense industry.

In the last decade or so, we have witnessed quantum leaps in technology that have made our lives easier, faster and safer.  Macomb County and the region – offering a depth of research, technology and engineering expertise – are well equipped to meet the future workforce needs.

Often the mainstream perception of the defense industry can be quite narrow, focusing in on just the military. What do you the think the average Michigander doesn’t realize about the defense industry?

The military is not simply about weapons and combat vehicles. It is an organization that employs and manages people. There are millions of contract dollars that go to everyday companies like Kellogg and Herman Miller – so the opportunities are open to a wide range of businesses in all types of industries.
Military technology is often created with partnerships with private industry and universities.  The federal government contracts with higher education and business to develop technologically superior advantages on the battlefield.  These innovations are frequently adapted for mass civilian use.  Examples include the microwave, GPS, Infrared, prosthetic limbs and even Kleenex!

With the emergence of the global economy driven by high-tech innovation, how has the defense industry changed over the past few years? How do you adjust for changes that can emerge so quickly? 

Our biggest defense suppliers – GDLS, BAE, Oshkosh – don’t just supply the American forces, but also our allies.

Michigan’s strength is innovation.  In fact, this global demand for high-tech innovation works in our favor. Allied countries are seeking the technology that is developed here.  Companies within the U.S. defense industry are responding to this demand which diversifies their business.  They have accomplished this by working with allies to sell their products outside of the United States.  This trade is heavily regulated to ensure the superiority of the United States military but helps this country to strengthen supporting forces.

What are the biggest challenges facing Michigan’s defense industry?

Political uncertainty is the biggest challenge facing the nation’s defense industry.  Sequestration could significantly cut the budget of the Department of Defense, in a manner that would be detrimental to the nation’s defense industrial base.

How do you see the footprint of key assets like TACOM and Selfridge Air National Guard Base changing in the future?

Although a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) has been shelved for 2013, we must always prepare for continual adjustments to the Department of Defense. In the last BRAC (2005), we were able to enhance our local facilities with gains from Rock Island, Illinois.  This area needs to continue to add value to the military.  Again, it’s the symbiotic relationship between our private industry, higher education and military installations.  It’s not just the value the military brings to this area, it’s the advantages we offer the military and national defense.  If we continue this line of thinking,  I am hopeful Michigan’s assets – TACOM LCMC and Selfridge ANG – will be expanded.

In Macomb County you’ve focused on driving the defense industry and worked to position your county as the defense capital of the world. How does the rest of the country and the world view Michigan’s defense industry?

I’m not sure there is an overwhelming impression that Michigan has a robust defense industry. Michigan and the Detroit area are just starting to realize how important it is to market our strengths.  The success of the Pure Michigan campaign is direct evidence of that importance and evidence that
we need to promote what we do and who we are.

Changing that for the defense industry is our exact goal for Macomb and the region.

With world-renowned defense contractors such as General Dynamics Land Systems, BAE Systems, and Oshkosh Defense, Macomb County’s defense industry certainly has unique and important strengths that contribute greatly to the nation’s military capabilities.

Other locales in the nation focus on serving other aspects of the military. Our strengths are in ground vehicles, robotics and modeling and simulation, and we are growing our prowess in serving the aerospace industry as well.

Where do you see the defense industry 20 years from now?

Obviously I cannot speak for the industry as a whole.  As for what happens in our area – I would like to see enhanced collaboration between the military, the higher education community and private industry. This coexistence has benefited our economy and our nation.

Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?

Check out the new website from the Defense Industry Strategy Taskforce (Macomb Community College, New Economy Initiative and Macomb County) www.southeastmichigandefense.com

From 2000-2010, the Department of Defense contracted activities or awarded grants totaling $1.6 billion for research and development to organizations within Macomb County alone. Let’s grow these opportunities across Michigan!

James Martinez is associate editor of the Detroiter.