Metro Detroit’s comeback trail

 

 

By Rod Meloni|ClickOnDetroit

DETROIT – Our economic winter has been so long and so hard few among us are anxious to declare they’ve seen that first robin of spring.

I mean everyone in this town knows one or more people laid off from good, high paying jobs with few good prospects on the horizon. How many college graduates do you know who have found a genuine career path with their first job?

Yes, economic life in Metro Detroit remains smash mouth tough. But, after the stories I’ve covered over the past week tell me if the robin isn’t here just yet, it is decidedly on the wing.

Today I toured a small specialty auto parts supplier called Mobility Products & Design. Here they build fifty different types of dual and hand controls the disabled use in cars, trucks and vans to get around more easily. Their parts can fit onto just about any manufacturer’s vehicle and they talk directly with the disabled and their caregivers to come up with new product ideas. Through medical technology, aging baby boomers are living longer with ever more debilitating health issues.

They need and want better transportation solutions creating a large and lucrative market. The company started in Winamac, Indiana two years ago to go after the North American market. But owner James Morrison says he needed to come back to Metro Detroit [Shelby Township] because here exists all of the engineering and prototyping talent he could never find in Indiana [and he needs a lot]. Better yet, it is literally right around the corner from his shop. He only has 10 employees right now, but says his sales are up 20% year over year and Morrison will soon start hiring thanks to the demand he expects from a particular new product his company just built. It’s a dual control unit useful for teaching the newly disabled how to drive again and is also good for driver’s education vehicles. So they will be hiring. Keep this link handy if you are interested.

Just last week I profiled Brose [Pronounced Brose-uh] a German auto supplier ready to take North American by storm. President and CEO Jan Kowal was very kind in giving me the nickel tour of his very impressive headquarters where he will bring in roughly eighty engineers there to fuel his newest project. Kowal is opening a new plant in the so called aerotropolis land mass [next to Metro Airport] in New Boston. It will bring 350 jobs to a vacant auto assembly plant in the next year or so. That company builds the underpinnings for car seats and the power window drive mechanisms and other parts for doors. Part of their success is the fact that the auto sales numbers, if they don’t crater anytime soon because of some global disaster, that 14 million vehicles will sell this year; that’s a far cry from the 2009 level of under 10 million a year. And while I’m looking for good news, GM today announced it is adding more bodies to the Hamtramck Assembly [Poletown] Plant because demand for the Chevy Volt in California has taken off unexpectedly.

Ever so slowly and quietly the auto industry is crawling back, and its supply base is starting to see the growth with new and bigger orders. No we won’t instantly be rocket sledded into fat times again. This spring thaw will take years… but it is coming and while not quickly enough, it is still on the early warning radar.

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