MACKINAC ISLAND (WWJ) – The great-grandson of Henry Ford told the Mackinac Policy Conference Thursday morning that America has a newfound respect for manufacturing, a field that can and should be green.
Ford Motor Co. executive chairman Bill Ford said Michigan can become the Silicon Valley of 21st Century mobility, leading the creation of more high-tech jobs while solving the problems of urban mobility and transportation’s outsized contribution to pollution and global warming.
Overall, Ford said, it’s clear that manufacturing — and Michigan — are back as the heart of American industry.
“After the past few years in crisis mode, it’s remarkable to see everybody up here relaxed and enjoying themselves again rather than having hushed hallway conversations,” Ford said.
As for manufacturing, he said, for too long America “honored those who made deals rather than those who made things.” But no industry spins off jobs like manufacturing, and no sector of manufacturing spins off more than automotive — nine jobs for every auto industry job.
Ford also touted TechShop Detroit, an Allen Park invention accelerator created by a San Francisco entrepreneur and brought to Michigan by Ford. And he announced the Motor City Innovation Exchange, a collaboration between Ford Motor Co., TechShop Detroit, AutoHarvest and TechTown to encourage Michigan innovators and entrepreneurs by offering affordable work/hacker space and support also being offered to spur job-creating businesses.
Ford also highlighted the benefits Michigan has realized by being at the center of exciting developments in green technology, including electric vehicles and battery innovation.
“At Ford, we have invested nearly a billion dollars to build electric vehicles and the battery packs that power them right here in Michigan,” said Ford. “We want this technology to become a core competency for us in the 21st century. And we are building the expertise to do that right here in our home state.”
Ford noted that “being an environmentalist used to mean you were always against things. That’s no longer true.”
While great strides have been made with green technology, Ford also discussed the pressures of a growing global population and the new challenge of global gridlock — the potential that the world will face a never-ending traffic jam that wastes time, energy and resources.
Ford outlined the company’s vision to address this global challenge in the company’s Blueprint for Mobility, announced earlier this year.
He also described urban mobility as the greatest opportunity for Michigan. Ford believes that tackling this challenge will pave a future for Michigan akin to the birth of a new Silicon Valley.
“To address this issue, we will once again need new technologies, as well as new ways of looking at the world,” explained Ford. “We will need to view the automobile as one element of a transportation ecosystem.”
Integrating the automobile with this new transportation ecosystem will require an incredible variety of high-tech and policy jobs, which should be based in Michigan, he said.
“This technology is in varying stages of development and deployment, but it promises to radically transform the experience of driving,” said Ford. “As it develops, I believe Michigan must become the Silicon Valley of the mobility revolution.”
Ford said wireless vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-road communication “will become a key part of vehicle technology … that we can build right here in Michigan.”
Ford also called on policymakers to ensure policy was not holding back innovation and prosperity in Michigan. Ford argued for an updating of the state tax system by eliminating personal property taxes as well as investment in updating the electric grid.
“We’ve got to work harder at getting startups to locate here,” he said. “Why should (electric car startups) Tesla and Fisker be in California, and not here?”
He noted that there are encouraging signs of progress being made, citing a study released last fall by the TechAmerica Foundation that indicated Michigan added more high-tech jobs than any other state between 2009 and 2010. And he said the Tax Foundation had moved Michigan up to No. 7 among the states in its business tax burden, from No. 49 last year.
“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.
Ford also noted that Michigan needs a world-class infrastructure and that its location on the U.S.-Canada border provides Michigan with a unique advantage. He affirmed his support for the construction of a new crossing to improve traffic flow and reduce congestion, ensuring the timely flow of goods to support Michigan businesses.