A moving story for Michigan

Posted on June 25, 2012

Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration this fall will launch its comprehensive logistics strategy aimed at turning Michigan into a global logistical hub that it says could bring up to 75,000 direct jobs to the state.

At its core, the initiative is a promotional effort to pitch the state’s advantages — such as transportation assets, locations, incentives and workforce — to companies globally, thereby increasing trade and investment in Michigan.

It also will act as a coordinator and information clearinghouse for transportation, distribution and logistics efforts already under way around the state and will examine policies and laws that affect the movement of goods by air, land and water.

Committees composed of members from economic development, transportation, logistics, education and business groups from across Michigan have been meeting since the first week of May to begin formulating the nuts and bolts of the strategy, said Carolyn Gawlik, senior director of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Transportation, Distribution and Logistics Program.

“It knits together a lot of that,” said Gawlik, who sits on the strategy effort’s steering committee and its business development and industry collaboration subcommittee. The chamber’s Translinked initiative is a metro Detroit version of the TDL strategy and serves as a model for what the state is doing.

Michigan ranked eighth among states last year in export shipments, at nearly $51 billion, according to the MEDC, and the Snyder administration and the various participating economic development organizations say a statewide strategy can increase that number.

“We move way more freight than many places in the country that move much less than we do but have better branding,” Gawlik said.

The overall strategy goal is to increase investment in the state and in trade, and to boost employment by increasing exports via Michigan’s network of highways, airports, international bridges and tunnels, and Great Lakes freighter ports.

The effort is led by the Michigan Economic Development Corp., which says such a plan, in addition to boosting job creation, will reduce supply chain costs by up to 20 percent for the state’s manufacturing, agricultural and distribution industries.

The MEDC is working with the Michigan Department of Transportation and Michigan Department of Agricultural and Rural Development to oversee development of the plan, known as the Statewide Transportation, Distribution and Logistics Strategy.

The MEDC is positioning the strategy as a “partnership model” that will allow the participating groups to formulate the strategy, rather than a top-down dictate from state government.

The MEDC’s introduction paper for the logistics strategy also notes that the state has to “develop a common vision and partnerships with Ohio and Canada, including Ontario, and other port destinations like Montreal; Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Prince Rupert and Vancouver, British Columbia.”

Also being discussed by the committees is what type of oversight for the TDL initiative will be most efficient.

“Other states have authorities and commissions; we are trying to find out what’s going to work in Michigan and our region,” said Peter Anastor, MEDC policy director.

The initiative also is cataloging all of the TDL assets in the region (including northwest Ohio and southeast Ontario), such as bridges, tunnels, airports and highways, along with private-sector logistics companies and proposed infrastructure such as a new rail tunnel in Detroit.

Also being inventoried are the related incentive efforts, such as the logistics-based “aerotropolis” program at Detroit Metropolitan and Willow Run airports, and the state’s five Next Michigan Development Corps., which offer tax breaks to firms that move products and services by at least two of four means: air, road, rail or water.

One of the pillars of the strategy will be the $2.1 billion New International Trade Crossing, the new Detroit-Windsor bridge that has been one of Snyder’s key agenda priorities. An agreement with Canada that governs the construction and operation of the bridge was signed June 15, and its four-year construction timeframe could begin in a year or two.

The state expects the bridge, once in operation, to protect and increase both jobs and trade.

“We think the manufacturing sector will be the biggest benefactor,” Finney said.

The MEDC expects new investment and jobs fueled by the bridge to come from firms already here, rather than from an influx of new businesses.

“Most of the opportunities we’re seeing are with existing companies,” he said.

Logistics industry insiders say the new strategy is timely.

“There’s tremendous opportunity to better market the region as a transportation, logistics and distribution hub. We have many of the infrastructure pieces in place,” said John Taylor, an associate professor of supply chain management and director of supply chain programs at Wayne State University. “We need to market the aerotropolis instead of talking about it. It’s there, it exists. It’s already a major hub.”

For now, the state hasn’t committed funding to the strategy effort, Anastor said. It’s not yet known how much money might be needed.

“At some point, once we develop more of an action plan, we will have to put money forward,” he said. “Right now, we’re just trying to engage the stakeholders.”

These are the external organizations participating in Michigan’s effort to formulate a statewide transportation, distribution and logistics strategy:

Business Leaders for Michigan
Center for Automotive Research
Detroit Intermodal Freight Terminal
Detroit Regional Chamber
Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority
Great Lakes Global Freight Gateway
Great Lakes International Trade and Transportation Hub
Michigan State University
Next Michigan Development Corps. (Detroit, Lansing, Traverse City and I-69 corridor regions)
Prima Civitas Foundation
• Private logistics and shipping companies, including rail lines

Source: MEDC
Bill Shea, Crain’s Detroit