Detroit is Electric Motor City in a Frenzied Battle for Auto Engineering talent

March 9, 2019

Detroit Free Press

By: Mark Phelan

After years when Detroit was Ground Zero for skepticism about electric vehicles, the traditional auto industry’s hometown has become a hub of EV action.

The trend is attracting companies, cash and jobs — potentially including jobs for engineers and executives displaced by restructuring at General Motors and Ford.

At the same time, established automakers and suppliers are boosting their work on EVs at their local engineering centers, making southeast Michigan one of the world’s centers of EV development.

Companies come for the region’s talent, a bounty of engineers and executives who know how to turn ideas into vehicles that start every day, survive crashes and can be built by the million.

“For more than a century, companies in and around Detroit have refined complex electromechanical devices to make them smaller, cheaper, and more reliable for mass-market use in cars,” said John Voelcker, former editor of Green Car Reports.

“That’s what auto engineers do. And more of them do it around Detroit than anywhere else in North America.”

Rivian Automotive, which got a major endorsement when Amazon recently invested $700 million, is a prime example. The developer of electric pickups and SUVs drew huge crowds when it showed its first two models at the Los Angeles auto show late last year. Rivian moved its headquarters to Plymouth, just west of Detroit, in 2015. More than 350 people work there in design and engineering. Rivian plans to build vehicles at a former Chrysler and Mitsubishi plant that it owns in Illinois.

Money talks

“When somebody puts in $700 million, it gets your attention,” said Glenn Stevens of MichAuto and the Detroit Regional Chamber, both of which work with companies that may invest and expand in the region.

Bollinger Motors last year relocated its headquarters, engineering and design from New York state to Ferndale, just north of Detroit on the Woodward Avenue corridor. Employment is just a handful now as Bollinger completes prototypes for electric pickups and SUVs scheduled for production in small numbers starting in 2020. The company hopes to build the B1 SUV and B2 pickup in Southeast Michigan.

“Everything we can, we’re going to do in Detroit,” Bollinger brand director Mark Foster said. Like most people, executives considering investment and hiring in the region frequently use “Detroit” as a shorthand that encompasses much of southeast Michigan.

Detroit Custom Chassis’ plant on Detroit’s east side just began installing powertrains and controls from Motiv Power Systems in Ford F-59 truck frames for electric medium-duty vehicles such as delivery vans

“Companies come here for the talent, experience and because we have test facilities and a physical environment with extremes of hot and cold, snow and rain for testing,” said Lou Donato of the Society of Automotive Engineers.

‘Town is swimming in talent’

The giants are on board alongside the newcomers. Ford’s high-profile plan to turn Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood into a center of electric and autonomous vehicle development added momentum.

More quietly, GM has reorganized its whole engineering structure to speed up development of a host of electric and autonomous vehicles.

“Every automaker is terrified of being left behind,” said Drew Winter, Wards Automotive content director. “Even though they won’t sell millions of EV in the immediate future, they have to gear up now.

“We’re seeing the beginnings of an industry that’s changing.”

Welcome to the Electric Motor City.

“This town is swimming in talent,” said Jim Taylor, a veteran auto executive and engineer who led several brands at GM and has worked with startup EV makers. “The battle to develop these vehicles is a people war. To be a credible manufacturer, you need to fill 600-700 seats with the skills needed to take a vehicle from design to the dealership.

“Draw a 30-mile circle around Detroit and you find more people with that skill set than anywhere else. It’s the technology hub. That’s what draws these companies.

“You win the battle resumé by resumé.”

Help wanted

GM’s recent white-collar layoffs could be a bonanza for EV companies, Taylor said. That many people with that kind of experience don’t come on the market often. They may be available just when new EV companies need them.

And not just vehicle makers. Suppliers developing everything from electric fast-charge systems to roads that communicate with vehicles have also been drawn by southeast Michigan’s concentration of engineering talent, research facilities and places to test new technologies.

Karma Automotive, an electric luxury carmaker based in California and owned by Chinese auto supplier Wanxiang Group, realized it needed a Detroit engineering center to work with suppliers. It has about 50 engineers work at in Troy.

“We have so many suppliers and key partners in southeast Michigan that it’s critical to have an office there,” Karma spokesman Dave Barthmuss said. “We’re a California company, through and through, but you can’t ignore the expertise available in Detroit.”

At the same time, GM and Ford are ramping up EV development with the aim of launching high-profile new vehicles in the next two to three years. Fiat Chrysler recently joined the party, announcing its $4.5 billion investment in new local assembly plants and vehicles includes its first major move into EVs. At least 18 automakers have engineering center in the Detroit area. All of them are believed to be doing EV work, as are the many supplier tech centers around town.

“The Detroit area has become a center of expertise for companies developing electric vehicles and infrastructure, said Jim Saber, president and CEO of NextEenrgy, a Detroit-based tech incubator. “Start-ups and many established companies from outside the region are drawn to the area to and access the talent and partnerships to develop produce the vehicles and systems at scale.”

Want a factory? It’ll cost you.

Most tech centers employ dozens to hundreds of people. Detroit’s deep talent pool has proven irresistible for many companies looking for talent. Luring new manufacturing is different.

Vince Carioti, director of German supplier Phoenix Contact E-mobility North American operations was originally told to locate in Silicon Valley when the company needed a tech center to support its move into developing EV charging systems.

“I felt that with our ties to the U.S.-based automotive in Detroit and all the focus on electrification and autonomy, we should be located here” Carioti said.

“This was a challenge. There is so much press and media promoting the Valley and the companies located there.”

He persuaded Phoenix’s CEO to come and see Detroit. “In the end I was successful in convincing him to locate in Ann Arbor.  We have one facility (there) and a presence at the Landing zone in downtown Detroit.

“My goal is to eventually have some type of assembly of inlets and charging cables here in the U.S. maybe even Michigan.”

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, government subsidies play a big role in where companies build vehicle assembly sites, which can employ thousands.

Celebrated auto designer Henrik Fisker’s eponymous company recently hired veteran politician Richard Gephardt to select a site for a proposed plant to build around 100,000 electric SUVs a year. Fisker is open about the fact that incentives play a large role in the process. He’s narrowed choices to four states. Michigan isn’t one of them.

View the original article here

$30K grant gives 8 Detroit neighborhoods makeovers

October 5, 2018
WJKB-FOX 2 News

 

Neighbors in eight areas about to see a makeover thanks to a $30,000 grant.

GM and the Detroit Regional Chamber awarded the Neighbor-Hub grant to help fix up Eden Gardens Block Club on Glenfield Street on Detroit’s east side. “I screamed and I said thank you! I said thank you so much thank you so much because we had no idea we were going to get it,” said Karen Knox with Eden Gardens Block Club.

It’s a grant that will create a safe space for kids and elders — a pocket park that merges young and old in one neighborhood.

“Elders have something to offer. They have the wisdom of life that they can give to children and the children have the wisdom of today’s world and technology and this is an exchange that we are bringing here to our community to make a more positive impact on the children and all the adults,” Knox said.

Dennis Markray is a volunteer.

“My father lives in the neighborhood and he rides his bike so he can come over to the park and be able to enjoy it,” he said.

He’s been helping change this patch of land across from abandoned houses into a safe spot for all generations.

“Detroit is a whole lot more than what people think. And when people come together they can make some really powerful things happen,” he said.

Officials say more than 100 people applied for the grant. Now Eden Gardens Block Club is working to make it into a unique spot blending old and new, including chess tables and outdoor cardio walkers alongside playscapes.

The blueprint was put together by Karen Knox and Polly Jones.

“All that’s happening downtown is great,” Knox said. “But we are still here in the community among the blight, among the burnt out houses. So it is us that has to work hard to rebuild this neighborhood to make it a place where we are welcoming other people to come in and rebuild. Downtown is great to come out here.”

Volunteers from Hastings drove down to help make this happen.

“The need here it’s just incredible. Just seeing that there’s so much need and it just motivated us to want to come down and help,” said Jenny Stoetzel.

Other recipients include Motown Museum, Detroit Phoenix Center, and the Detroit Theater Organ Society and five others.

View the original article here

Walsh College’s Conversation with Leaders Program Announces Speaker Christina Vanderelzen, GM Director of Global Talent

Christina Vanderelzen, the director of global talent at General Motors, kicks off Walsh College’s Conversation with Leaders: Career Growth and Development program on Thursday, Oct. 12, from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Troy campus.

This complimentary session is open to the public and offers a unique opportunity to hear directly from Vanderelzen about her career journey — from material flow and labor to moving her family to Italy, to human resources director for global design, and now managing GM’s global hiring plan — and the value of lateral and vertical movement within a company.

“We are honored to host Christina Vanderelzen at Walsh,” said Jenny Tatsak, Ph.D., chair of the Business Communications Department and director of the Success Center. “Her career path, as well as her most recent experiences in global talent acquisition, will provide invaluable insight and a real-world perspective on the many critical issues facing businesses and professionals.”

The event is hosted by the College’s Success Center, which provides designated space and resources for executive coaching and prepares Walsh students with communication and technical skills necessary for leadership roles and professional growth.

“This presentation is perfect for Walsh College students, alumni, and all business professionals who want to network and learn how a career can take various turns along the way,” Dr. Tatsak added. “Conversation with Leaders is one of many examples of our focus to provide students with contemporary, real-life business knowledge.”

To register, visit info.walshcollege.edu/leader. Space is limited so register early.

Detroit’s Tech, Automotive Leadership Takes Spotlight During Israel Mission Trip

In a follow-up to a January fact-finding mission to Israel earlier this year led by Mark Davidoff, Michigan managing partner at Deloitte, and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, the Detroit Regional Chamber, along with economic development representatives from Oakland County, returned to the country in May to meet with automotive and manufacturing companies looking to expand into the U.S. market.

“Following our fact-finding mission in January, we saw an opportunity in Israel beyond the country’s robust cybersecurity sector to the larger automotive technology landscape,” said Justin Robinson, vice president of Business Attraction for the Detroit Regional Chamber.

“Our Business Attraction program has made a shift to recruit more early-stage automotive technology companies and we are looking to the markets that we believe hold the greatest potential to bring that technology to Southeast Michigan — Israel and Silicon Valley,” he added.

The trip, which took place May 15-19, was timed to coincide with Ecomotion 2017, a worldwide conference focused on promoting knowledge-sharing among companies in the smart transportation sector (pictured).

During the week, the delegation held 25 one-on-one meetings with venture capital companies, automotive accelerators and startups, to glean information on how to best support Israeli companies that have an eye toward the North American market. Primarily, Robinson said companies expressed the need for better connections to OEMs (such as Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co.) and Tier 1 and 2 suppliers.

“It was a great opportunity to listen and understand what we need to be doing as a region to better position ourselves to connect this new startup ecosystem with the established automotive ecosystem in Detroit,” he said.

There are roughly 6,000 startups in Israel today. As more pop up due to the country’s rich talent pool and government support for entrepreneurs, many companies are setting their sights to North America to scale their business quickly, Robinson said.

“Mobility is becoming one of the key areas of focus, which is a perfect opportunity for Michigan,” he said.

For more information on Forward Detroit, contact Marnita S. Harris at mharris@detroitchamber.com or 313.596.0310. To view a full list of investors and past Investor Exclusive content, visit our Investor Resources page.

Michigan Business Delegation Explores Israeli Startup Ecosystem, Cybersecurity Innovation

By Daniel Lai

The Detroit Regional Chamber recently joined 15 organizations across the state for a five-day fact-finding mission on Israel’s booming startup culture and cyber innovation hosted by Deloitte and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.

The mission is part of an ongoing effort to build relationships with key government leaders in the country while also connecting Michigan companies with startups and business accelerators in order to develop collaborative technology solutions to strengthen the state’s leadership in connectivity and next-generation mobility.

In addition to the Chamber, the delegation included representatives from AT&T, ChoiceTel, Consumer Energy, Cornerstone Schools, Crain’s Detroit Business, Downtown Detroit Partnership, General Motors Co., Henry Ford Health System, ITC Holdings Corp., Michigan State Police and The Right Place.

Highlights from the week included:

  • Attending the 2017 CyberTech Conference in Tel Aviv to hear from industry experts in cybersecurity
  • Touring AT&T’s latest innovation center in Raanana, GM’s Advanced Technical Center in Tel Aviv and Israel’s Startup Nation Central, a nonprofit focused on getting innovation in front of leading companies around the world
  • Meeting with Avi Hasson, Israel’s chief scientist
  • Hosting meetings with decision-makers from more than 12 technology companies

Israel has the highest density of tech startups in the world cultivated by highly trained graduates from the military establishment, robust government investment in innovation and STEM education. That public and private synergy is ripe for entrepreneurial growth.

“It is very clear that Israel is a market Michigan must have a close relationship with not only because of the volume, but also the quality of innovation taking place. They have a culture that asks partners, ‘bring us your problems’ – and there are no shortage of challenges in delivering autonomous driving to the world,” said Justin Robinson, the Chamber’s vice president of business attraction.

“The Chamber and MICHauto are committed to further enhancing the connections between our established automotive industry and venture capital community with the technology ecosystem in Israel. Doing so will be a win-win for both of our communities,” he added.

Daniel Lai is a communications specialist and copywriter at the Detroit Regional Chamber. 

Economic Experts: Next-Generation Mobility, Innovation and Education Key Issues to Move Region Forward

With its world-class assets, the Detroit region has an unprecedented opportunity to drive next-generation mobility development. Remaining a leader in the space, however, is not a foregone conclusion. That was a key message Mustafa Mohatarem, chief economist for General Motors Co., laid out during remarks at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s State of the Region luncheon on Jan. 25.

“When auto sales do well around the world, this region does exceptionally well,” Mohatarem said during remarks on national economic trends.

Global auto sales are at an all-time high and growing, including in the United States, Canada and Mexico, according to Mohatarem. However, he said Michigan cannot rest on its laurels.

“If we don’t do the right things, we may find ourselves like Pittsburgh and Youngstown with the steel (industry) — someone else will displace us,” he warned.

“What we need to do in our region to ensure the success of the auto industry is to preserve it. Not in the sense of trying to keep it the same because the industry may look very different in the next few years,” Mohatarem added.

Mohatarem also discussed other key economic indicators for the region, including rising interest rates and low oil prices. He ended his remarks with insight on President Trump’s administration, adding that the initial outlook has some positives, such as cutting corporate tax rates to help boost investments in the United States, and increasing infrastructure spending.

“These are exciting times, positive times – and everyone will not agree with me, but we will see a lot of change,” Mohatarem said.

Mohatarem then joined a panel of regional leaders to discuss the presented State of the Region data. Panelists included: Rip Rapson, president and CEO of The Kresge Foundation; John Roberts, budget director of the state of Michigan; and Marina Whitman, professor of business administration and public policy of the University of Michigan. The panel was moderated by Devin Scillian, anchor on WDIV-TV 4.

The panelists touched on many topics including trade and transportation. Panelists agreed that education must be a top priority to move the region forward.

“We’ve got to figure out some way to put the kids first and I frankly don’t know how to do that,” Rapson said. “We’ve got to take a moonshot here because we just can’t continue the kind of gradual, incremental stuff.”

View the 2017 State of the Region report here.

For Auto Industry, Attracting and Retaining Millennial Talent Requires an Inclusive Company Culture

By Daniel Lai

The millennial generation is the fastest-rising workforce and will comprise 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025, according to PwC. In order for Michigan’s automotive and mobility industry to reap the talent it needs to maintain its leadership in connected and autonomous vehicle development, changing “the company culture” to appeal to millennials is not only necessary, it is essential. That was a key message Marvin Mendoza, director of talent innovation at PwC, delivered to more than 150 automotive industry leaders and stakeholders at the sixth MICHauto Annual Meeting.

“What we’re seeing, regardless of industry, are three megatrends impacting businesses: the rise of the millennial workforce, the rise of the flexible and freelance workforce, and the explosion of mobile and digital technology,” Mendoza said. “To stay ahead of the game, you have to adapt to these trends quickly and strategically.”

According to Mendoza, companies must adjust their culture to appeal to the next generation of talent. In conducting its own study, PwC determined that millennials are highly satisfied working for companies that provide: opportunity for career progression, merit bonuses, training, flexible working schedules, and a sense of doing something “good” for society. Additionally, millennials prefer to receive performance feedback in a real-time face-to-face environment.

Following Mendoza’s presentation, he was joined on stage by Anya Babbitt, founder and CEO of SPLT; Steven Fitzgerald, vice president and chief human resources officer for Visteon Corp.; and David Whitman, senior manager of global talent acquisition strategy and business planning for General Motors Co., for a discussion on how the “culture of making a difference” has positively impacted their business’s growth.

“We see a lot of talent coming back to Michigan,” Whitman said. “We have figured out that if people feel like they are making a difference in a very real way, and if they are happy, they will stay. What better way to capitalize on this than this convergence of the automotive and technology industries?”

In responding to a question from moderator Joann Muller, Detroit bureau chief for Forbes Media LLC, about preparing the next-generation to fill the talent pipeline, Fitzgerald said Michigan universities have stepped up with a plethora of degree programs. However, the automotive industry must not be afraid to look globally.

“There are only 300 million people in the United States trying to fill the demand of a global population of 7 billion people. There’s no way that a country as proportionally small as the United States is to the world can keep up with the talent demand in education if we continue to look solely in our borders,” he said.

MICHauto Names Sen. Ken Horn Legislator of the Year; American Axle’s Bill Smith Honored for Volunteerism