The hottest cars from NAIAS and where to find them in Macomb County

If you live in the Metro Detroit region, it’s pretty hard to miss the North American International Auto Show. So you’ve likely read the news articles, heard the buzz and seen the pics detailing all of the hot new cars coming off the line. One vehicle in particular, the Ram 1500, is garnering a lot of attention – and it’s made right here in Macomb County.

truck.jpgOn Monday, January 14, the 1500 was named North American Truck of the Year, one of the most prestigious awards of the show. The truck is built at the Sterling Assembly Plant in Sterling Heights and it’s loaded with style, comfort and technology features like a 48-volt motor-generator and a lithium-ion battery hidden in the rear wall of its spacious cab. Price range is between $31,795 and $56,895 and according to FCA, the vehicle saw a 40 percent increase in sales in December – a clear sign that the Ram 1500 resonates with consumers.

Of course, there were more cars than just the Ram truck at NAIAS and several received extensive media coverage. They include:

  • The Hyundai Genesis G70, which took home the North American Car of the Year. The luxury vehicle is priced between $34,900 and $50,250 and according to reports, it packs a value while costing far less than its German competitors.
  • dsc_6461The Hyundai Kona, which won the North American Sport Utility of the Year. The Kona bested the Acura RDX and Jaguar I-Pace to receive this accolade, and with the cost somewhere between $19,990 and $34,650, this subcompact makes for a solid investment. Currently, the Kona is available in two versions – gasoline powered or electric. The gasoline version comes with standard touch screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, forward collision alert, braking assist, lane-keeping assist and drowsy-driver alert. The electric has an EPA-rated range of 258 miles and a charging time of 9 hours, 24 minutes at 240 volts.

A number of other vehicles drew attention and praise during the last week and we’re certain many of you have taken down notes of what you’d like to test out and/or buy. To help you in this effort, MCPED has compiled an easy-to-use map of 50 local dealerships here in Macomb County.  Whether you’re in the northern, eastern, southern or western parts of the region, we’ve got dealers for all locales. Click here to access the resource and let us know in the comments what you plan to go see. And if you’re interested in checking vehicles out at NAIAS, click here to find info on tickets. Happy driving!

Megan Ochmanek is a communications specialist for the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development.

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Q/A with Gail Alpert, president of FIRST in Michigan

It is estimated that 65 percent of today’s kindergarteners will have job titles that do not currently exist. Many of these new roles will be related to STEM, so it is imperative that young people have opportunities to explore and become educated in these fields.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics is a program that does just that. Its mission is to inspire young people to become science and technology leaders by engaging them in mentor-based programs and competitions. These events challenge students to raise funds, design a brand, hone teamwork skills and build and program industrial-size robots that play difficult field games against like-minded program_gail_alpert.jpgcompetitors. According to FIRST, this is as close to real-world engineering as a student can get.

To learn more about this innovative program, the Macomb Business blog sat down with Gail Alpert, president of FIRST in Michigan, for a Q and A.

Q1: Business and government leaders here in Michigan are very much invested in workforce development and building the next generation of talent. FIRST Robotics and FIRST programming can be an important part of that process. Why is that the case?

A: FIRST is designed to entice high schools students to choose a career in engineering, technology and the skilled trades through the building of a robot with the help of industry mentors from sponsoring companies. Students have the chance to see the tremendous capabilities of their mentors and follow in their footsteps, while the mentors can hand pick the students that best fit their companies for internships and jobs early on, long before the students are recruited by other companies.

Q2: In addition to STEM skills, many FIRST Robotics students develop confidence and communication abilities. How does FIRST programming help young people in this capacity and why should that matter to businesses?

A: There is no better tool in the student’s tool box than learning how to communicate in an effective, concise way. You can have the best product in the world, but if you cannot articulate why it’s the best, or why it’s needed, it means nothing. FIRST students not only compete with their robots, but are interviewed by a group of Judges about their robot and their team as part of the competition.  They are extremely well spoken and confident after participating in FIRST.

Q3: With these sentiments in mind, why should businesses get involved with FIRST Robotics and how can they do so? And to clarify, can businesses without a STEM-focus help as well?

A: All types of companies are and can be involved in FIRST, because all companies can play a vital role on a FIRST team even if they don’t have a STEM focus. Each team functions like a small business taking a product from inception to market.  Aside from designing, building and fabricating the robot, the teams have to do marketing, fundraising, budgeting and outreach.  All companies have some type of expertise that teams can use. Additionally, companies use FIRST to identify leaders and develop leadership skills among their current workforce.

Getting involved is easy. Simply contact me at Gail.Alpert@gmail.com. The busy season for high school teams is January through April. The season ends with the World Competition at Cobo Center on April 25-27 with about 40,000 people in attendance.

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Q4: Can you share any anecdotes from businesses that got involved with FIRST Robotics? Did they have positive experiences?

A: FIRST is always a win-win for companies that get involved. Two great examples come to mind. The first was a student that was hired as an intern at a tier one automotive supplier in his junior year. The very first day on the job, the student was given a software program that was relatively new to the company.  His mentor told him to play around it with it.  After lunch, the mentor returned and asked him how he was coming. The FIRST student replied: “Take a look. I created a game out of it.” The mentor was stunned.

The second story is about a student that planned to go into business rather than engineering.  He interned during his freshman year of college at the company that sponsored his high school robotics team.  About 20 of us were there for a meeting. The intern was running the meeting and was absolutely phenomenal.

Q5: What’s next for FIRST in Michigan? Are there any new initiatives, partnerships or expansions in the pipeline?

A: We always have new initiatives on the horizon. This year, the state money available through the Marshall Plan is creating fantastic opportunities for collaboration between FIRST teams and companies as communities come up with inventive ways to grow the STEM workforce. At least two of the proposals that were chosen for Plan funding included partnerships with FIRST.

FIRST is also focused on expanding our programs all the way down to kindergarten. In fact, 78 school districts across Michigan currently run all 4 of our programs (high school, middle school, upper and lower elementary school.) This season we are piloting a Pre-K program as well. It’s never too early to foster interest in STEM!

Detroit has been a huge focus for several years as we work to give every student in the city the opportunity to participate. Nearly every high school in Detroit has a FIRST team already, so we created a partnership with the Detroit Police Athletic League and Quicken Loans to start new teams at the middle school and elementary level. Ford, the FCA Foundation, the GM Foundation and Google are helping too. We are working with the Detroit Public Schools Community District to put FIRST in all third grade classrooms.

Finally, the state grant for FIRST, created about 5 years ago, enabled us to expand FIRST to the smallest of school districts in the most remote areas of the state. We are working to make sure the new legislature understands just how critical this funding is to all of our teams and to the continued development of the STEM workforce.

Megan Ochmanek is a communications specialist for the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development.

Accelerating towards next generation mobility in Macomb County

The North American International Auto Show is renowned for its fleet of future-focused vehicles. From concept cars to CAD drawings, the ideas for mobility seem endless – as is the discussion around what’s next for drivers. But topics that are sometimes missing from the conversation are our roadways and intelligent transportation systems (ITS). And those are important issues to explore, because smart cars won’t be very smart without smart roads and infrastructure.

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Here in Macomb County, that’s not an issue. In fact, we’re leading the nation as one of the only counties developing next generation mobility strategies and roadways.

  • We have more than 300 Roadside Units (RSU) on business corridors throughout the county.
  • There are over 630 traffic signals connected to COMTEC, the Macomb County Communications and Technology Center.
  • 260 cameras help that facility monitor traffic on roads and 19 communication backhaul poles have created a robust ITS network.

Why does this all matter? The first answer is safety. Ultimately, Macomb County would like to increase driver welfare on area roads and decrease the number of car accidents. By combining current traffic safety programs with vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) systems and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications, this goal is within reach. For instance, between 2016 and 2017, the county experienced a 33 percent reduction in traffic crash related fatalities. This is a direct result of actions taken by the Macomb Department of Roads backed up by data and technology.

The second answer is connected vehicle testing, an essential tool for the Big Three as they look to prototype and build more smart cars. To do that, they need infrastructure where they can assess their new vehicles in real-world settings. The 300 RSUs on Macomb’s business corridor give them this ability. These boxes gather and broadcast information at intersections and link with the connected vehicles to alert them to changing lights or other hazards. Eventually, the RSUs will be able to give speed guidance or construction alerts. And in the future, RSUs and connected vehicles could even communicate with other modes of transportation, like buses, pedestrians and bicycles, all using the same technology. But today, this system helps companies like GM, Ford and FCA experiment with their vehicles. And because Macomb prioritizes smart infrastructure, they can determine what will work and what won’t for drivers around the world. That’s certainly impressive; but of course it makes sense that our region would be a trailblazer in this effort. We make the cars, therefore we lead the way in next generation mobility.

Megan Ochmanek is a communications specialist for the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development.

Macomb County focused on “Future Tech, Future Talent” during Auto Show

In its most recent Future of Jobs Report (2018), the World Economic Forum forecasts dramatic changes for workplaces around the globe driven by automation and machines. wefBut this five year economic outlook is more positive than one would assume. From new job creation to retraining opportunities, the report features several interesting predictions, including:

  1. There is a net positive outlook for jobs – amid job disruption
    While current job roles may be displaced by the shift in the division of labor between humans, machines and algorithms, 133 million new job roles may emerge at the same time. Those roles are either related to technology (data analysts, software and applications developers and e-commerce and social media specialists) or emphasize human traits (customer service workers, sales and marketing professionals, training and development, people and culture, and organizational development specialists).
  2. New tasks at work are driving demand for new skills
    By 2022, the skills required to perform most jobs will have shifted significantly. Skills growing in importance include analytical thinking and active learning as well as technology design. “Human” skills will also increase in value, including: creativity, critical thinking, persuasion and negotiation, attention to detail, resilience, flexibility, complex problem-solving, emotional intelligence, leadership and social influence and service orientation.
  3. We will all need to become lifelong learners
    As workplaces change, so must workers. On average, employees will need 101 days of retraining and upskilling in the period up to 2022. This will require businesses to build a comprehensive strategy for workforce planning, training and education.

These points are driving a future-focused mindset here in Macomb County, where business, government and education leaders are collaborating on several new talent and technology initiatives. And while attending the North American International Auto Show, these leaders will take time to discuss a few of the efforts.

autonomous-1.1“We couldn’t think of a better time or place to highlight these initiatives than the North American International Auto Show,” said John Paul Rea, director of Macomb County Planning and Economic Development (MCPED). “This show is a testament to our region’s ingenuity and ability to grow and innovate. So we’re proud to showcase our county’s future-focused mindset here.”

The first major initiative they will highlight is a Robotics Collaboration and Innovation Center, a new resource aimed at increasing awareness and opportunity within the robotics environment. The center was submitted by MCPED as a proposal to the Defense Industry Growth Area Grants program through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation in the summer of 2018. It was recently awarded funding and will launch at the Velocity Collaboration Center later this year. Once open, the center’s mission will be partnering with businesses, educational organizations, nonprofits and startups to offer tools, programs, expert assistance and open access to an independent, digital- and electronic-based environment for creative people. It will be a facility and ecosystem which offers co-sharing and individual workspaces, computers, software and related technologies. It will also feature a tooling and fabrication shop, engineering and computer science assistance, business development assistance and mentors from leading automotive, defense, manufacturing and technology firms, all in an open, collaborative environment.

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“New technologies are having a massive effect on just about every aspect of our lives,” said County Executive Mark A. Hackel. “Whether it’s the economy, infrastructure or education, the world is changing and we need to be ready for that. This is why Macomb County is investing in new programs and initiatives aimed at tech and talent. We want to make sure that our communities and residents are prepared for the future in ways that will ensure our success.”

google-fueling talent pipeline-1.1Other major investments to discuss include Macomb County’s recently launched “Fueling the Talent Pipeline” effort – a service platform that will allow employers and educators to connect, share resources and help students become aware of future career opportunities – and its connected roadways strategy. The strategy, which involves the creation of a smart infrastructure network that can communicate with vehicles, bikes, buses and pedestrians, will position Macomb County as a leader in improving the overall mobility experience.

For more information on the above initiatives, visit www.macombbusiness.com.

Megan Ochmanek is a communications specialist for the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development.

Exclusive Auto Show Experiences Available Through Macomb County

The North American International Auto Show is right around the corner, as are premier opportunities to connect and share insights with professionals and companies from around the world.naiasEach year more than 2,200 companies in the automotive sector come together at NAIAS to showcase cutting-edge products, technologies and services. With nearly 40,000 global professionals and analysts at the event, it’s also a great place for networking, especially during Industry Preview Days on January 16 and 17.

dsc_5109Premium access to this portion of NAIAS is now available. For instance, the VIP Industry Preview Package provides businesses with an exclusive way to experience the show, entertain clients and network with industry professionals. Each ticket package includes:

  • A pass for the private Atwater Networking Lounge
  • Hospitality features including coat check, light lunch and refreshments
  • A commemorative NAIAS program
  • Complimentary entry to a designated work area
  • Early access to the show floor on January 16

The premier package is available for $110. Groups purchasing 20 or more tickets will receive additional benefits, including two bonus credentials for the Atwater Networking Lounge. To purchase exclusive tickets using our special promo code (TFG19), click here.

As an additional perk for current and prospective Macomb County clients, we will host a hospitality suite on Wednesday, January 16 from 2-5 p.m. in Room #338. Join us and take advantage of a comfortable place to sit, light refreshments and access to electrical outlets. Our business development staff will be on hand to talk about how the county is supporting the automotive sector with its wide variety of resources, including a skilled and talent workforce, optimal facility locations, connected roadways and industry investments.

NAIAS is an important event for Macomb County – the third most populated county in the state. We look forward to being a part of the annual expo and showcasing the “Future Tech, Future Talent” found just north of the Motor City.

Amy Lafnear is a communications specialist for the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development.

Bolstered by loyal workforce, Möllertech celebrates 20 year anniversary in Shelby Township

Automotive suppliers from around the world choose to put down roots in the Motor City region because of our collective history, talented workforce and depth of knowledge and insights in manufacturing. Möllertech is no different. The German injection molding moeller_logo_Moeller_Techcompany was attracted to the area for those exact reasons and opened its Shelby Township facility in 1998, bringing more than 250 years of experience with it. A family-owned organization, Möllertech has plants all over the world and three in the United States that specialize in vehicle interiors. At the 110,000-square-foot Michigan facility, parts are made for General Motors and BMW by 75 individuals – an employee count that will likely increase due to new projects on the horizon. But this month, the focus at Möllertech has been the celebration of its 20 year anniversary here in Macomb County; a milestone recently recognized with an open house and BBQ.

I visited Möllertech during their anniversary festivities and was greeted with a jovial atmosphere generated by employees and their families enjoying food trucks, games and activities. There was even a dunk tank for those feeling adventurous. After indulging in a few slices of wood-fired pizza, I was led on an informative tour by a Möllertech supply chain manager, Chuck Gietzen.

The first thing I noticed while walking the floor was the plant’s impeccable organization and cleanliness, which of course, is intentional. Möllertech adheres to Kaizen, a Japanese management concept focused on continuous improvement through visual order and standardization. For management, following Kaizen also means building a culture where all employees are actively engaged in suggesting and implementing efficiencies. By doing this, the company ensures a creative atmosphere that prioritizes problem solving and producing the best product possible. A new Cadillac parked just outside the plant demonstrated the outputs of this work. With all four doors open, my tour guide could point out the various parts that the company produced for the car. Back panels, A pillars, B pillars, console side covers – anything plastic is something they likely touched.

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Seeing the product in person and the machines that made it certainly drove home the scale of this supplier. But perhaps the most impressive part of my tour was passing by the Möllertech seniority wall, a display near the entrance to the plant that features the photos and names of workers who have been with the company for years – sometimes 10, sometimes 15. I discussed this trend at length with Gietzen, a 19.5 year veteran of the organization. He was its second employee. And he’s not alone in employment longevity. That seniority wall has a number of names installed. So clearly there’s something about the company that resonates with these individuals, making it easy to stay in the job for a long period of time. From my tour and in learning about Möllertech, I presume that it’s because of two reasons.

First, there’s a culture of respect. According to Gietzen, the management treats employees like family. Which requires more than just hosting employee events and parties – Möllertech listens to its workers and consistently invests in on-the-job training. Management is also very engaged with the day-to-day activities, visiting the plant, walking the floor and monitoring operations. Steve Jordan, Möllertech’s North American president and CEO, is at the Shelby facility at least every six weeks. This type of involvement shows a deep commitment to the employees and to the work they do.

Second, the innovative techniques employed by Möllertech allows them to attract new clients and jobs. For instance, on the factory tour, I saw an outlined space that will soon hold machinery and staff assigned to work on parts for the Maybach, a popular luxury vehicle. Projects like this one are exciting for employees because they allow them to develop new skills and talents. With new work coming in regularly, the choice to stay on at Möllertech would be easy.

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At the conclusion of my tour, I shook hands with Gietzen and thanked him for his time. I then made a pit stop at the edible cookie dough food truck before heading back to the office, reflecting on a great day at a great company.

If this type of work environment is something you’re interested in, stay tuned to the Möllertech website. That aforementioned Maybach work means that the company will need close to 50 new employees at the Shelby facility. And if you’re able to get a foot in the door now, perhaps you’ll be up on that seniority wall for the plant’s next big anniversary.

**Möllertech is a client of the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development (MCPED).  The business development group assists companies in many facets of expanding and growing a company including:

  • Support with accessing state and local incentives and financing options
  • Assistance with workforce recruitment, training and retention programs
  • Identifying available sites for expanding or relocating a business
  • Access to business counseling services
  • Market research and marketing
  • Workshops and networking opportunities

The economic development specialists for MCPED are focused on growing, retaining and attracting businesses to Macomb County. To learn what resources are available for your business, visit macombbusiness.com or email info@macombbusiness.com.

Megan Ochmanek is a communications specialist for the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development.

STEAM camp prepares young students for future careers

Last week a unique summer camp took place at Macomb Community College focused on STEAM, an acronym for science, technology, engineering, art and math. The summer camp, funded through a grant from General Motors, was an immersive program specifically designed to engage middle school students from Macomb County. From college style lectures to touring real world laboratories, each day of the five-day camp had activities dedicated to one area of STEAM. For instance, on the science day, students learned a few chemistry magic tricks.

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“My favorite activity was the golden pennies,” said Emily Auchter. “They were so cool. First the pennies were cleaned with vinegar and water and then we put them in a zinc solution. Once they were silver, we took them and held them over the flames. They then turned gold.”

On the third day of camp, the students learned about art and engineering by designing and building model race cars. Ava Crnovrsanin was awarded the most aerodynamic car.  “My favorite activity was the edible cars,” she said. “Together, my partner and I made a car out of food. We then tested our cars by sending it down a ramp to see how fast it could run. Our car made it down the fastest.”

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Although each day was filled with activities, the camp also allowed the students to bond around their favorite subjects. “My favorite activity was Math Day,” said Shelby Lafferty. “I enjoyed it because I could hang out with my friends and learn at the same time.  They made math fun.”

Outside of simply providing a fun atmosphere, camps like the one held at Macomb Community College help prepare students for the future economy. It is estimated that 65 percent of today’s kindergarteners will have job titles that do not currently exist. And many of those roles will be related to STEAM. So it is imperative that young people have opportunities to explore and become educated in these fields.

Macomb County is making big strides in this area. We collaborate with partners to develop and support initiatives that expose students to STEAM career possibilities and point them to educational pathways that lead to meaningful employment. This work includes:

  • The Macomb County Department of Planning & Economic Development partners with the Macomb Intermediate School District, along with an active planning committee and generous sponsors, to coordinate one of the nation’s largest celebrations of Manufacturing Day (MFG Day). Since 2014, more than 7,000 students have visited a nearby plant to see industry in action and learn about career possibilities.
  • The Department has also partnered with Romeo Community Schools as they work towards becoming Michigan’s first Ford Next Generation Learning community. The newly established Academies of Romeo will enable students to choose a thematic course of study – such as engineering, health care or information technology – and learn in a relevant, hands-on environment. Students learn math, science, English and social studies within the theme they choose.
  • Macomb Community College hosts AUTO Steam Days, a two-day hands-on opportunity for students to explore careers in automotive design, robotics, manufacturing and technology.
  • The Michigan Automotive & Defense Cyber Awareness Team (MADCAT) partners with academia and area U.S. Department of Defense assets to develop a career pathway for high school and college students in cybersecurity.

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Those are just a few examples of the many programs and partnerships Macomb County is pursuing to fuel our talent pipeline and prepare the next generation for STEAM-related work opportunities. Through these efforts, we hope to ensure economic stability in our region for many years to come. But ultimately, our goal is to give our young people the tools they need to succeed and connect their passion with opportunity.

Megan Ochmanek is a communications specialist for the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development.