Ford Motor Company’s decision to create 11,000 jobs and invest $11 billion in electric vehicle assembly and battery production plants in Tennessee and Kentucky is a setback for Michigan. Make no mistake about it, this is one of the largest investments ever made by a company in the U.S. and globally, and is a tremendous bet by Ford on the future. Also make no mistake about it, the future automotive industry is Michigan’s game to lose, and we’ve lost the first inning.
I am a Ford kid. I have lived through this story before where the plants outside Cleveland that my father worked in as a skilled tradesman for 30 years, providing for his family, closed shortly after his retirement. Technology had moved on and Ford did not need the foundry and two massive engine plants in Cleveland. For many of my Michigan-based economic development colleagues, this announcement brings back memories of pivotal moments from decades past in our state’s economic history. The decision by GM to close the Willow Run plant in Ypsilanti, which once employed thousands of workers, was a cathartic event for our region and the entire state. That decision was a wakeup call to Michigan, which led to the development of an aggressive and robust set of economic development programs and strategies that have unfortunately faded over the last decade.
We can’t lose without learning, and if Michigan doesn’t learn from Ford’s decision, we risk further losses. How we respond today will set the course for the next generation of Michigan’s economic future. And rest-assured the impact is not isolated to one region of our state. We know of the massive supply chain of Tier 1 through 3 suppliers in our region, but that is the case across the entire state. For example, our fellow Michiganders in Grand Rapids have over 400 automotive suppliers employing 40,000 people. But we are at a pivotal point. This investment by Ford puts a bright spotlight on what we in the economic development community have known and have been warning about for quite some time. Automobiles and trucks are not going to be made the same way as they have been. The days of the internal combustion engine are numbered and places that are dependent on the manufacture of that 20th century technology are at risk.
We must respond to this competitive threat from other parts of the country aggressively and immediately. We must be able to compete and win on the following:
- Sites: We need shovel-ready sites for companies to build EV-related facilities and other large-scale job generating projects.
- Incentives: We need robust economic incentive tools that measure up to those of our competitors, specifically designed to lure our companies away.
- Utilities: We need competitive economic development rates for these large-scale projects.
- Training: We need to train our workforce for these high-tech jobs.
While today’s news is focused on electric vehicle investments, the elements noted above are universal needs across all our industries. Our homegrown companies have many options when considering their next investments, and other states are competing aggressively to have them leave Michigan.
The good news is we are still in the game. With a strong supply chain, available infrastructure, and skilled workforce at the ready, we can win future investments. While we may have lost this inning, we can still step back up to the plate the next inning ready to hit. But we cannot afford to wait, because the future is now. Let’s lead from the front, not trail from behind.