Detroit’s Hidden Strength

For the last 12 years, I’ve been working in the area of technical staffing.  Specifically, I place people into positions in the field of electronics and software development.  Though I work nationally, a large portion of my clients are in the Detroit area.  The systems my candidates develop are the driving forces behind most of the technologies people are talking about all the time these days, from electric vehicles to wind power.  This inside view has cued me to one of the Detroit area’s main assets and possibly the advantage we have that could bring us back.

I’m one of the people who believes producing our own energy is the number one way to lead the nation not only into recovery, but maybe our best shot at greatness again.  But for all the talk about wind power, fuel cells, and all similar technologies being the way of the future, none of them have succeeded in the open market.  Sure, you can buy hybrid cars now but how many people do you know who have one?  So what keeps these from hitting the big time?  Cost.

It takes a lot more work to turn sunlight into electricity than to burn a pile of coal.  More work equals more dollars.  You can get electric cars but only the well-off will be able to afford them without giant incentives.  Can we come up with ways to bring the cost of these technologies down?  Sure.  Will that issue be solved in a lab in San Jose?  Probably not.

The advanced research facilities both coasts are famous for are great at coming up with new ideas.  What they create in any given week could make your head spin and they deserve kudos for lighting the path to the future.  The problem is most of them don’t have any clue what it takes to mass produce these products for a reasonable price.  That’s where the Detroit area engineering community comes in.

The Detroit engineering community is one of the most underappreciated assets our country has.  No other region in this country matches this one in terms of taking advanced concepts and turning them into real products.  It’s not even appreciated here.  Every day I talk to people who develop algorithms, electronic hardware, and software controls to do wonders like object detection/avoidance, precise battery power management, and other feats.  Not only do they do these things, but they do them precisely and safely.  And not only that, but they’re developed within strict budgets to make sure they can go into millions of affordable vehicles.  Just a handful of years ago, the idea of stability controls to prevent your car for slipping and hydroplaning was just on paper.  Now it’s going out in every vehicle and saving thousands of lives a year.  The sad part is if not for my job, I wouldn’t even know about it.  Our local papers don’t talk it up.  I’ve only seen Time’s Detroit blog mention it in passing. 

Global companies know about it.  One of the reasons I’m so busy now is that countries from all over the world set up engineering centers here in an attempt to turn their ideas into real products.  It was just automotive firms in the past, but now we’re seeing battery companies come rolling into town.  These centers are adding the types of jobs this area needs.  Can you imagine how much more we could have if someone were out there bragging about it?  What does anyone every talk about?  Folks on the assembly line.  Those are important people doing important jobs, but they’re not the path to the future.  I could forgive the national media for missing it, but why us too?

Our country desperately needs to start bringing some of these future technologies into the present and Detroit has the know-how to do it.  We have a rare opportunity to put ourselves at the head of the pack and we will really regret missing it.  So will the country.  We need to stop moaning about what we don’t have, appreciate what we do, and tell the world about it.  It’s the only way to bounce back.  We can gripe about Dateline’s negative coverage all day, but the story will never change unless we give them a reason to look at us different.  I’m convinced this is it. 

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