STERLING HEIGHTS (WWJ) — More than 400 people representing more than 150 Michigan manufacturers and service providers spent their Thursday at the General Motors Heritage Center in Sterling Heights.

But they weren’t there just to ogle the center’s spectacular collection of classic GM sheet metal. They were there to expand into the aerospace business with Boeing Co. and Kuka Systems North America LLC.

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Thursday’s event was the latest in the Michigan Economic Development Corp.’s Pure Michigan Business Connect program that has fostered more than $1.6 billion in business over the past three years, by simply encouraging Michigan companies to do business with other Michigan companies.

MEDC president and CEO Mike Finney spoke just before more than 200 one-on-one began, outlining the MEDC’s services to foster company formation and job creation in Michigan.

Finney said the MEDC offers assistance with talent development through various training programs and the Pure Michigan Talent Connect website at

It also offers funding through a loan gap financing program, where the state fills in the difference between a company’s collateral and the amount of money they need in a bank loan. The state also provides direct grants to business expansions and move-ins, about $120 million a year’s worth.

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And then there’s Pure Michigan Business Connect. Finney said the concept was launched when he was CEO of Ann Arbor Spark, the economic development agency for the Ann Arbor area, and now-Gov. Rick Snyder was a venture capitalist and chairman of the Ann Arbor Spark board. The first Business Connect project got Michigan’s auto supplier base connected to GE Aerospace.

Finney said aerospace is a natural expansion for Michigan’s auto suppliers, once they adjust to the smaller production volumes of the aircraft business — which are partially offset by higher margins.

Audio of an interview with Finney is at this link. 

Finney credited Kuka for building a thriving aerospace business out of a factory next door to the GM Heritage Center, just off Mound Road in the heart of the Macomb County manufacturing corridor. “We think most manufacturers in our state could do exactly the same thing once they understand how to do business in that sector,” Finney said.

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Companies at the event included Toggled, the Troy-based LED lighting subsidiary of Altair Engineering Inc.; construction giant Barton Malow Co. of Southfield; Dowding Industries, an Eaton Rapids manufacturer that has diversified into wind energy; Merrill Technology Group, a Saginaw manufacturer that has expanded into wind as well; Livonia auto and renewable energy supplier Roush Industries; TransCertain LLC, a data security company based in Florida that has former Michigan congressman Peter Hoekstra on its advisory board; and Trillium Teamologies, a Royal Oak IT consultant.