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Snyder at auto summit in Detroit: Industry and state need to stop staring at rearview

MLive: September 25, 2013
By David Muller

DETROIT, MI- The automotive epicenter of the United States should stop staring in the rearview mirror and focus on the road ahead, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder told an audience at the inaugural Michigan Automotive Summit on Wednesday morning.

“We’ve got a culture, we’ve got a legacy, we know how to make cars in this state,” Snyder said at the Cobo Center in Detroit.

As skepticism has crept into the Michigan economy since the two of the three major auto producers needed a federal bailout less than five years ago, Snyder said that instead “now is the time to double down.”

Snyder said his greatest challenge in being the state’s chief executive officer was not “changing laws, but changing culture.” With the auto industry, too many people have been nostalgic for the massive industry glory years while also wallowing in the bleak days of 2008 and 2009.

Michigan has led the country in manufacturing jobs created between 2010 and 2012, adding 55,000 new positions. A little more than 20,000 of those jobs are related to automotive manufacturing. Almost 23 percent of cars produced in the United States are made in Michigan.

Snyder was the first and keynote speaker at the Michigan Automotive Summit, which was organized by the Detroit Regional Chamber’s MichAuto initiative.

MichAuto, Chamber President and CEO Sandy Baruah said, was re-launched a year and a half ago to act as a unified voice for the state’s auto industry.

“This conference is not just about automotive, it’s about the relationship of automotive to Michigan,” Baruah said Wednesday. “We all know, in those dark days of 2008 and 2009, that a lack of a unified message for this industry cost us dearly.”

Baruah outlined the importance of the industry to the state: 61 of the country’s top 100 automotive suppliers are based in Michigan. Since 2010, the auto industry has invested roughly $12 billion here.

Michigan also has the highest number of engineers per capita. However, a “talent gap” is an oft-repeated issue facing the state and its automotive sector.

On that front, Baruah said MichAuto has started a student program aimed at getting young people interested in the advanced automotive sector.

Snyder, too, emphasized the need for improved education and talent attraction. “We have a broken system of connecting great people to opportunities,” he said.

The governor highlighted the state’s relatively new Michigan Advanced Technician Training (MAT2), a three-year program that places high school students in training positions with manufacturing or technology companies. The students get an associate’s degree in the process, and ideally, a job with the employer they’re training with once the three years are complete.

Snyder, whose gubernatorial reelection campaign got an unofficial start this week, also once again highlighted Michigan as the “comeback state,” and spoke about ways he made the state more business-friendly over the past three and half years.

He said when he took office Michigan had the “dumbest tax in the United States,” referring to the Michigan Business Tax. “Some people said cut it in half,” he said, adding,
“If you take dumb and divide it by two it’s still dumb.”

Snyder said he abolished the tax, and set up “consistent” rules and regulations for businesses. He said he has laid a financial foundation for the state that looks ahead to 2040.

“If you want a sweet job in Michigan, run for governor in 2038,” Snyder said.

Following Snyder, the one-day Michigan Automotive Summit continues with a series of speakers and panels, including General Motors Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson.

David Muller is the business reporter for MLive Media Group in Detroit. Email him at dmuller@mlive.com or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.