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The Voice of Supply

Neil de Koker: OESA president calls Southeast Michigan critical to auto success

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Detroit and the surrounding metropolitan area continue to provide an ideal environment for companies to thrive. The region is rich with talent and resources, both necessary to succeed in the global market. The region has the greatest concentration of automotive engineers in the world, employing more electrical and mechanical engineers than any other state in the country. There is a rich foundation of supplier technical centers in Southeast Michigan, easy access to international trade ports and industry-leading technology centers. There are also the less-publicized resources in the Detroit area, such as the Environmental Protection Agency for certifying vehicles and the first-ever satellite U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The latter says a lot about the region’s brain power. Add to those resources the access to world-class universities, and Southeast Michigan is the place for companies to be hypercompetitive in the global automotive market.
For automotive suppliers, this truly is the place to be. Seven global original equipment manufacturers (OEM) house their global or North American research and development activities in Southeast Michigan; another seven OEMs have a research and development presence in the region. It is no surprise that 61 of the top 100 automotive suppliers in North America have their headquarters in Michigan. For OESA members, being in Detroit is critical for success. Virtually all of our regular member companies have a presence in the area – whether that is a headquarters, research and development activity or a sales office. This is a testament to the significant role this area continues to play in the automotive industry.

For me, the route to making the Detroit area my home is not complex. I began my career in 1962 as an engineering co-op student with GMI (General Motors Institute, now Kettering University) working at the Chevrolet central office on Grand Boulevard in Detroit. It was quite the experience, coming from Grand Rapids to work for the world’s largest automotive company. Between then and now, I have stayed knee-deep in the automotive industry, working in Cincinnati and Toronto (both great cities). However, metro Detroit is now my home and it is exciting to see how this industry and region has survived the ups and downs. It is also inspiring to see the re-birth of Detroit’s Midtown.

Detroit has a history as an intellectual hot spot. And while all the attention on high-technology seems to land on the West and East coasts, there is no more technologically advanced product than the automobile – it is after all the ultimate consumer product. And there is no region more in tune and able to support the re-birth of the automotive industry than Detroit.

Neil de Koker is president and CEO of the Original Equipment Suppliers Association