Trends in transportation, manufacturing and green technology offer an opportunity for Michigan to emerge as a global innovation center, Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford said today at the Mackinac Policy Conference.
The auto executive called for policy reform and the need to foster innovation to create the new high-tech jobs that will make Michigan a leader.
He also announced two initiatives to help young innovators by providing space to create and promote their ideas and inventions.
"While Michigan is the home of the auto industry, the trends affecting our industry offer a great opportunity to make it the home of a variety of other industries as well," Ford said.
"We are heading in the right direction to grow Michigan by putting the right policies in place and investing in Michigan's future."
The two new initiatives include the Motor City Innovation Exchange, which is a collaboration between Ford, TechShop Detroit, Wayne State University's TechTown and AutoHarvest to help entrepreneurs commercialize their creations. The program provides a showroom to display and pitch inventions.
The second, the Jump Start Program, provides work space near TechShop, to help entrepreneurs grow their new businesses.
"All of these efforts are to encourage innovation, not just in our company, but throughout our state," said Ford. "New ideas are a priceless resource, and the ultimate driver of economic growth."
But Ford in no way wants to downplay the impact of the auto industry in the modern world.
"No other sector of the economy creates as many spinoff jobs as the auto sector. For each job created in autos, nine more jobs are created to support it," he told attendees, adding that half the new jobs created in the past two years were manufacturing-related.
The automaker is contributing. This month about 1,200 jobs were added at the Michigan Assembly Plant that makes the Focus but also the Focus Electric and it is preparing to introduce hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions of a new crossover called the C-Max.
"At Ford, we have invested nearly a billion dollars to build electric vehicles and the battery packs that power them right here in Michigan," he said.
Ford also repeated his concerns about global gridlock and a call for the auto industry to work with telecom and other industries for smart transportation to better navigate congested roads. His Blueprint for Mobility plans includes creating a "transportation ecosystem" in Michigan -- which would require high-tech and policy jobs in the state.
"I believe Michigan must become the Silicon Valley of the mobility revolution."
He also called for an update of the state tax system by eliminating personal property taxes and investment in updating the electric grid.
The executive also said he supports building a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor to keep goods flowing across the border.
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