The business model for the U.S. automotive industry needs to be re-evaluated to find ways to become competitive again with foreign manufacturers. Innovators and entrepreneurs in Michigan can help drive this by bringing new ideas for improving the supply chain, speeding up cycle times for innovative R&D, and cost reduction. These ideas need to come forward in small and large companies whose businesses support making cars.
The region can be rebuilt to sustainable dynamism only if additional sectors emerge to help drive the economy. Innovators and entrepreneurs can focus on sectors where the population and dynamics of Detroit lend themselves to transition into that new business with some level of re-training for the workforce. Can they bring in manufacturing for high tech components, for example?
This facilitates attracting new businesses that blend established and new economies: Detroit has long been known as a one-industry town, but in order to thrive beyond the downsizing of the auto industry, the economy must consist of those businesses that continue to support new car manufacturing, while adding a diverse blend of service, retail and manufacturing companies.
Entrepreneurs in Michigan can also look at the various schools and universities to see areas where they can find skilled workers for new types of business sectors. For example, this could include engineers who direct their abilities towards cleantech or new sources of energy generation. This could help them as they direct investment towards new areas of technology, like nanotechnology, which has potential across business sectors.
By developing partnerships with universities like the University of Michigan and Wayne State University, local entrepreneurs can access new ideas and support incubator companies coming out of these institutions that will help grow the economy. The entrepreneurs should be in close contact with local government to help them understand which types of skills might be required. That way, re-training initiatives can be directed towards providing the correctly skilled workers. Some progress has already been made through state programs like the Green Jobs Initiative and No Worker Left Behind, to retrain former automotive engineers for new types of, for example, cleantech engineering work. And local universities are already involved in business incubator projects like TechTown. More efforts like this should be encouraged.
Last, it’s important to set realistic expectations: It takes time to reinvigorate a local economy. Engage the policymakers and political leaders to develop policies that are conducive to business growth and development. Learn from the successes and mistakes of other regions.
[Editor’s note: To help launch Xconomy Detroit, we’ve queried our network of Xconomists and other innovation leaders around the country for their list of the most important things that entrepreneurs and innovators in Michigan can do to reinvigorate their regional economy.]
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