(09/04/13) - It's been the foundation of our economy for decades, but in recent
years, manufacturing in Michigan has hit hard times.
Now, a new effort is underway to bring it back.
Federal, state, local, and even school board members were at the Riverfront Banquet Center, Wednesday, talking about way to keep the manufacturing industry alive in Michigan. It's the first of it's kind in Mid-Michigan.
Throughout the day, there were discussions about what's needed to keep manufacturing thriving in our state.
One topic touched on was how to keep jobs in their communities safe from other cities trying to boost theirs. We also heard questions asked about changing government policy to keep everyone on the same page.
Mayors from Flint, Fenton, Auburn Hills and others talked about the struggles their communities have been facing.
"Let them see the opportunity that's here in Flint and Genesee County and also identify a couple of our problems we want some help with. More support with exporting, more support with our brownfields, job training programs. The elements that are critical for success for our companies in he 21st Century," said Flint Mayor Dayne Walling.
On hand to hear their stories was Jay William, President Obama's Director for Automotive Communities and Workers, Mathy Stanislaus from the EPA, Congressman Dan Kildee and Senator Debbie Stabenow.
Stanislaus says the department plays an important role in growing manufacturing across the country.
"The EPA provides a series of tools, everything from grants to assess sites, to market studies around sites. The EPA plays a critical role in analyzing the asset value of these former manufacturing sites," he said.
One of those projects is Buick City, in Flint. The agency has been working for years to get the site cleaned up, in hopes of sparking new business growth in the Vehicle City.
"We provided a grant for Buick City to do a job training so we could get the workforce to participate in the clean up of that, while there are separate grants for the clean up of that site," Stanislaus said.
Kildee and Stabenow both say manufacturing is vital to Mid-Michigan.
"We should be a good platform for manufacturing, with access to I-75, I-69, rail, and immediate access to Canada. That is one relationship that can be a benefit if we embrace it," Kildee said.
"I think its excellent first of all that the Obama Administration is continuing to focus on manufacturing. The EPA is leading the effort here. Doing it in Flint is perfect. This is home of the automotive industry, and really where the middle class was born and now being reborn," Stabenow said.
Williams says while manufacturing is important, especially to Michigan, investing and going after different sectors of the industry is key. He says the federal government can't do it alone - there has to be help from the private sector as well.
"People need to be re-introduced to the concept of manufacturing," he said. "Discussions and events like this today is the great way to do it."
Aside from those leading in the manufacturing field, those trying to bring new businesses and new buildings were also at the discussion. How to boost manufacturing was discussed, along with build on what we have here already including sites no longer being used and also the workforce.
"We have a great workforce here, but that workforce here is a little bit older from a technology standpoint. Some of the new manufacturing techniques needs new, innovative workers to be able to understand those skills. We have to match up the needs of the manufacturer with the skills of the employee and we need to train them so when a manufacturer does come in, he doesn't have to go through that long waiting curve of bringing the workforce up to the ability that he needs," said Phil Shaltz, Shaltz Automation President.
Shaltz also pointed to any kind of incentives available to bring employers and manufacturers into the area. Building on what we have here already, including sites no longer being used, was also discussed.
Amy Farmer, Complex Manager for Flint's General Motors Manufacturing Operations, also addressed the crowd - highlighting the high points. She talked about bridging the gap between businesses and the government to revitalize communities, and says manufacturing drives the community and it's a great foundation for other businesses to grow, to relocate and to support.
"In the last four years, we've had a chance to re-invest, as a company, a billion dollars in the Flint community through our assembly plant and engine work," she said.
Buena Vista Township Supervisor Dwayne Parker knows the impact manufacturing has on a community.
"We're the home to Nexteer Automotive," he said. "Manufacturing is the key to the middle class. It's what has invented this county. It has exported over the years. We need to bring that back. We have room for manufacturing in Buena Vista Township."
Grand Blanc Township Supervisor Micki Hoffman knows, too.
"Before the last recession, our growth was all in manufacturing" he said. "We have a great opportunity to offer somebody, so that's what we're looking forward to.
These leaders are going to take all they learned Wednesday and figure out how to put it into action. They'll figure out how to grow manufacturing in Michigan and hopefully put people to work.
The US EPA is sponsoring this specific roundtable, because, according to organizers, Flint knows what it's like to have lost, but now is poised for a comeback with help from an emerging master plan for revitalization.
This is just one of many discussion the EPA has been participating in across the country. They are going to the towns and listening, hoping that action will be taken at some point down the line.
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