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The Kind of Press Detroit Needs

Exciting article in Saturday's New York Times about Metro Detroit and the growing number of companies here that have evolved from automotive to other industries.

There are a large and wide array of businesses mentioned here. Multiple times, business owners refer to the educated workforce here in the state. They note: Michigan is a great place to do manufacturing -- we just know this stuff.

Ignore the horrid lead or first paragraph in the Times story. It gets better and better from there.

Highlight from the main meat of the article:

Dozens of Michigan manufacturers are discovering there is indeed life beyond the auto industry. Over the last two years, multinationals and start-ups alike have been coming to the state to build, buy or design a hodgepodge of products, whether aircraft parts, solar cells, or batteries for electric cars.

In September, for instance, NTR, a solar energy company from Ireland, awarded contracts to two Detroit-area auto suppliers, including the race-car engine developer McLaren Performance Technologies, to make components for thousands of SunCatcher solar dishes.

“It should be no surprise we went to Detroit,” says Jim Barry, NTR's chief executive. “The standard of manufacturing in the automotive industry is extraordinarily high, and that is the only place you can find such a concentration of skills.”

Of course, nobody expects Michigan to regain anytime soon all of the estimated 216,000 auto-related jobs lost in the past decade. Most of the new projects create 50 to 100 jobs at a time, while auto plant closures have shed tens of thousands.

“You could bring a whole new industry in here, and it may replace one auto plant,” says David E. Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor.

The economic impact of the new industries is also hard to gauge: Michigan has few statistics on revenue from industries like clean technology and aerospace. Much of the new work, moreover, is limited to machining and developing prototypes. Mass production will most likely head elsewhere to save costs or to be closer to end customers. In short, the full payoff of the investments outside the auto industry is unlikely to be felt for several more years.

A big kudos to blog friend John Mogk for sending this one my way. He makes a great point: Few if any of these businesses are within Detroit itself. Remember his "Three Cities" post about the three real parts of Detroit? This article really proves his theory. Agree?

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