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Bill Ford Wants to Turn Michigan into the “Silicon Valley of Mobility”

Emphasizes benefits of “green, smart technologies.”

by on May.31, 2012

Ford Chairman Bill Ford Jr. believes Detroit and Michigan can shed their rust belt personna.

Can the Motor City shed its rust belt image and take on a persona more in line with high-tech communities like San Francisco, Palo Alto, California or Seattle? Yes, says Ford Motor Co. Chairman Bill Ford, who contends Michigan, as a whole, can be repositioned as the “Silicon Valley of Mobility.”

In a sense, it’s a matter of been-there-done-that.  In its heyday, in the early years of the 20th Century, Detroit was the quintessential American boom town, much like Silicon Valley is today.  It was dubbed by many the “Paris of the Midwest” because of its art, architecture and sophisticated lifestyle.  But things began to rapidly decline in the post-War years and today some old industrial sites are being converted back to farmland.

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But in a speech during the annual Mackinac Policy Conference, Chairman Ford insisted continuing decline is not inevitable – especially if Detroit and Michigan embrace new “green, smart technologies.”

“To address this issue, we will once again need new technologies, as well as new ways of looking at the world.  We will need to view the automobile as one element of a transportation ecosystem,” the great-grandson of Ford founder Henry Ford declared.

The automobile, Bill Ford has noted on several occasions, can no longer be viewed as a standalone machine.  Industry leaders need to accept and respond to such challenges as fuel economy, emissions, safety and highway gridlock.

“This technology is in varying stages of development and deployment, but it promises to radically transform the experience of driving,” said Ford during today’s speech. “As it develops, I believe Michigan must become the Silicon Valley of the mobility revolution.”

In terms of his own company, the Ford Chairman noted the maker has so far invested nearly a billion dollars in battery technology in Michigan.  That includes upgrades to the Michigan Assembly Plant in the Detroit suburb of Wayne that recently began producing the new Ford Focus Electric.  The factory will also add a plug-in hybrid version of Ford’s new C-Max “people-mover” later this year.

As recently reported, there has been a significant turnaround in terms of high-tech job opportunities in Michigan.  According to the Society of Automotive Engineers and other groups, there is now a shortage of trained specialists, especially with more advanced skills in areas such as fuel economy and emissions controls. And Detroit’s Big Three aren’t the only ones hiring. Virtually every major automaker and supplier now has a significant tech presence in Metro Detroit, including Toyota which has set up a major test track and engineering center near Ann Arbor.

In his speech, Chairman Ford noted a recent study by the TechAmerica Foundation that found that despite the deep recession Michigan had added more high-tech jobs in 2009 and 2010 than any other state.

The turnaround of the so-called Great Lakes State will require a significant effort, the executive acknowledged, and will take steps that ensure its competitiveness.  He concluded his speech by calling on lawmakers to take several steps, including the elimination of personal property taxes and an investment in upgrading the electrical grid – which many currently see as a significant impediment to both expanded industrialization and the growth of the electric vehicle market.

“We can keep this momentum going if we are frank about the areas in which we can improve and we build upon our advantages,” Ford added.


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