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The Value of Defense: Protecting and Growing MI’s Arsenal of Innovation

Michigan may be the state that put the world on wheels, but it is also leading the way in the nation’s security as the “Arsenal of Innovation.” Protecting and growing those world-class defense assets, however, will require greater access to capital, talent acquisition, protecting infrastructure and increasing awareness of the industry’s economic impact at the federal level. That was the key message of “The Value of Defense: Protecting and Growing Michigan’s Assets” panel.

The panel preceded a press conference to launch the state’s “Protect and Grow” strategic plan. The announced plan aligns with the U.S. Department of Defense’s spending planned over the next decade and the state’s existing defense industry infrastructure and resources, which plays a significant role in U.S. military operations.

Michigan’s defense industry, including Macomb County’s TACOM Life Cycle Management Command and U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC), supports 105,000 jobs and represents an $8 billion economic impact on the state’s economy. If those assets were to be relocated however, the result would be devastating for large and small businesses and suppliers across the state.

“The defense industry is the lifeblood of our business,” General Dynamics Land Systems President Gary Whited said, adding that the company employs 1,700 people and averages $2 billion in defense contract work.

“We’re here because TACOM and TARDEC are here. If that changes, we may start having to look at locating elsewhere,” he added.

And he’s not alone. More than 4,000 businesses in 67 of the state’s 83 counties contribute to the defense industry.

Whited was joined on the panel by ThermoAnalytics’ Keith Johnson, Matrix Design Group’s Charles Perham, and Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

In addressing a question from moderator Nolan Finley of The Detroit News, Johnson said the defense industry has a wide-reaching impact on other industries, as well.

“There is so much synergism between the auto and defense industries,” Johnson said, citing his company’s use of technology created with federal dollars that is now being implemented in OEM vehicles manufactured in Michigan.

Stabenow said the automotive industry’s mobility innovation also augments research in the defense industry as well.

“The Secretary of Defense has made it clear that where we’re going is automation and advanced mobility. Where the Department of Defense wants to go and what Michigan is doing fits hand-and-hand,” she said.

Stabenow said in the event of another Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), Michigan’s biggest competition for defense assets would come from Alabama, Illinois and New Jersey.

“In the last round, Michigan gained assets and over 1,000 research jobs and I’m sure these states would like them back,” she said. “Because of that, the Michigan congressional delegation has been working hard to understand the value of defense for our state.”

As an example, Stabenow cited the delegation’s tour of TACOM, TARDEC and Selfridge Air National Guard Base, as well as other assets across the state, last year.

“It really opened our eyes to what is going on,” she said.

That information will be beneficial as Congress makes appointments to the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee and the Senate’s finance, energy and appropriations committees.

Perham praised the state’s proactive effort via the ‘Protect and Grow” strategy and also called for a conscious effort to attract talent—specifically veteran talent—especially with a growing emphasis for innovative technology to make troops safer and smarter abroad.

“You don’t have to go to California or Silicon Valley for that talent. We just have to do a better job of selling ourselves,” he said. “It’s not just about attracting talent. If we’re going to take the time to invest and train someone, we need to keep them here, too.”

Stabenow agreed, stating: “Folks in Silicon Valley need Automation Alley. We’re the ones who can optimize this technology and put it to work.”