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Tom Walsh: Speed dating sparks supply chain romances

From Detroit Free Press

By Tom Walsh 

July 14, 2013

Thursday’s round of speed dating at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan headquarters attracted 160 people for 20-minute meet-ups, hoping to hit it off and hook up with people across the table.

An earlier speed-dating assembly hosted by Ford Motor attracted 700 people.

Officially, the programs are called Pure Michigan Business Connect (PMBC) matchmaking summits.

Just think of them as speed dating for dollars, big dollars, on the supply chain of virtually any industry.

Michael Finney, president of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC), says the Pure Michigan Business Connect program has emerged as one of the encouraging answers to the often-asked question, “How will Michigan grow new business and create new jobs now that we’re not handing out big tax credits?”

Gov. Rick Snyder did away with most tax-credit incentives aimed at luring new projects to Michigan, opting for a simplified tax and regulatory approach to encourage growth of existing firms.

“We expect this program will generate $2 billion in new business in Michigan over the next couple of years, which could facilitate creation of about 10,000 jobs,” Finney told the crowd at the Blue Cross matchmaking event. “We’d love to grow that to $8 billion or $10 billion over the next five to 10 years.”

The PMBC program has a twofold aim:

  •  To boost procurement spending by large Michigan companies with suppliers inside the state
  •  And to peddle the products and expertise of Michigan to customers in other states and countries.

The dual focus stems from a merger earlier this year of two programs, an MEDC initiative led by DTE Energy and CMS Energy to ratchet up their in-state sourcing and a Detroit Regional Chamber program called Connection Point, paid for by a two-year grant of $725,842 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration and $309,135 in matching awards from the chamber and the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan.

“It’s a rare thing to see immediate, substantial results from economic development programs,” says Ben Erulkar, the chamber’s senior vice president. In this case, the timing was right for a post-recession economy as business activity was picking up but corporate staffs were lean and had trouble ramping back up to hire people and evaluate new suppliers.

“We do the initial vetting of prospective suppliers to increase the odds that they will be a good fit with the needs of the larger company,” Erulkar said, “and that’s a real value-add for them.” For the Blue Cross matchmaking event, nearly 200 companies sought audiences with Blue Cross buyers. PMBC director Trevor Pawl and his team whittled the participants down to 160 people from 92 companies.

DTE and CMS have increased their sourcing within Michigan by a combined $1 billion, resulting in 3,450 jobs, about 10 times their initial targets when they made the pledge in 2011. Other employers participating in the summits with prospective Michigan suppliers include Ford, Chrysler, Boeing, NASA, General Dynamics, BAE Systems, American Axle, Timken and Pratt & Whitney.

Finney apparently thinks Michigan is onto something big. He’s just taped a series of 30-second radio spots for Pure Michigan Connect that start airing next week.

Contact Tom Walsh: or 313-223-4430