Gov. Snyder Announces “We Run on Brainpower” Talent Initiative

At a Center for Automotive Research event in Traverse City, MI, this week, Gov. Rick Snyder announced a new statewide effort to publicize high-tech automotive jobs in Michigan in an effort to attract and retain talent. Called We Run on Brainpower, the marketing initiative will be directed by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and will highlight Michigan’s leadership role in developing automotive technology.

“It’s an integrated communications program to raise awareness about high-tech auto careers,” said Kevin Kerrigan, senior vice president of the MEDC’s Automotive Office. “The perception is that the auto industry is still the rust belt, and it’s important for the industry and government to really take the opportunity to try and change that.”

According to a 2014 study conducted by MICHAuto, only 41 percent of influencers are very likely to recommend a job in the automotive industry. (“Influencers” include parents with kids ages 12-17, adults in leadership roles of youth organizations, high school and college educators, career counselors, and academic advisors.) Kerrigan feels this is a perception that must change if young tech talent is going to be persuaded to start a career in Michigan, over storied hotbeds of innovation like Silicon Valley.

Though young engineering and computer science grads may see the auto industry as slow and stupid, Kerrigan said it actually has a high rate of new technology deployment compared to other industries. According to data supplied by the state, the automotive industry has created about 500,000 new jobs over the past five years, many of them at the technical level. Of the total U.S. automotive R&D spending, approximately 70 to 80 percent takes place among Michigan’s 375 R&D centers, where 70,000 professionals are employed.

Kerrigan said state officials want to make sure they not only make the case for young talent staying in Michigan, but they also plan to broadcast the message outside of the state that “Michigan is a great place to live and work, and the tech opportunities we have here are quite outstanding,” he added.

Kerrigan said We Run on Brainpower is part of a larger talent attraction and retention strategy that targets younger Michiganders. As part of that effort, the state opened the new Department of Talent and Economic Development and the Talent Investment Agency this year to help bolster Michigan’s workforce. “The governor has increased funding to community colleges and programs for skilled trades,” Kerrigan said. “Talent is very much a focal point for the state’s economic development.”

As of now, the We Run on Brainpower website has a dashboard with stories and videos about Michigan’s auto technology sector; some highlight tech opportunities in the state’s auto industry, and some are “day in the life” interviews with people already working in the industry. “Many of the videos are very good,” Kerrigan said. “I’d ask your readers to take a look at them.”

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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