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MICHauto Campaign Promotes State’s Driving Force

From: Crain’s Detroit Business

By: Dustin Walsh

January 8, 2015

Michigan is auto.

It’s a simple sentence with a simple meaning. This state is the epicenter of automotive development and design and has been since … well, always.

This is something we Michiganders have loved, hated, taken for granted and boldly defended. Michigan’s automotive base — from Henry Ford’s manufacturing line that built the middle class to the eventual collapse that decimated our economy — is in our DNA.

Industry development organization MichAuto, a product of the Detroit Regional Chamber, launched a campaign this month to push this concept beyond our borders.

The campaign is largely based on social media, asking users to post to Twitter, Facebook or Instagram using the hashtag #MichiganIsAuto to share their perspective on Michigan’s auto industry.

Those using the hashtag during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit Jan. 12-23 will be entered into a weekly contest. The winners will receive a $500 gift card.

Glenn Stevens, vice president of MichAuto and strategic development, said the contest is the start of a grass-roots program for talent.

“The industry we know today and the industry that’s coming tomorrow isn’t the same and we need different types of talent,” Stevens said. “The most important thing to us is to reach students and kids to tell them there is opportunity here, that we have great, big, exciting careers.”

MichAuto purchased two billboard locations near major highways in metro Detroit — I-94 in Allen Park and I-75 near the Davison Freeway in Detroit — to spread the word.

Stevens just returned this week from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas — which has a significant automotive presence in recent years. He said he was surprised by the number of companies who understood that “to be in the conversation about auto,” they have to be in Michigan.

But talent continues to lag. There isn’t an automotive company in the state that’s not suffering talent shortages.

To make matters worse … there simply aren’t enough students in programs today to fill the needs of tomorrow.

This is a major problem, folks. In a rapidly advancing industry, new innovative talent is critical.
Can a social media campaign move the needle? I honestly don’t know. But it can’t hurt. So let’s play along.

#MichiganIsAuto to me for more reasons than what fits into a social media post.

My father was a mechanic by trade. He owned his own, now defunct, shop in Battle Creek. He was honest. His customers loved him. He paid me $3 an hour under the table (Shhh!) to change oil in the summers.

Eating greasy burgers from Mr. Dons with grease-stained hands while getting ribbed for being too skinny or too tall or too weird by the other mechanics remains a fond memory.

I’ll remember the smell of old oil, and the chemical sawdust mixture to soak up that oil when I inevitably spilled it, for the rest of my life.

Because Detroit and its behemoth automotive industry existed is why my father had a shop. It’s what paid our bills. It’s why he owned classic Chevrolets — cars I loved, but couldn’t touch. It was part of my pedigree.

When I decided to stay in Michigan and be a reporter here, I didn’t know I’d report on the automotive industry. Tell you the truth, it didn’t much interest me. But I’m glad I did. I mean, how could I not? Michigan is auto and it is me.