Labor Secretary Perez praises Detroit auto supplier

Lauren Abdel-Razzaq
The Detroit News

Detroit — U.S. and Detroit officials touted Indian auto supplier Sakthi Automotive Group as a success story Wednesday after the company pledged to hire at least two formerly-incarcerated individuals each month.

"What Sakthi has done is a great example of taking returning citizens and putting them in jobs where they are highly productive and I think probably very loyal," said Mayor Mike Duggan. "You don't see much turn over with returning citizens."

Duggan was joined by U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez for the tour, which included a look at the plant production of various parts for a variety of automakers, including Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. They also got a glimpse at the design and testing process.

Perez visited the plant during a trip to Michigan that included a meeting with Gov. Rick Snyder and discussing job training programs in prisons to help prepare those coming out of the penal system to take on skilled trade jobs.

"The best strategy to reduce recidivism is to get people the skills to compete and good jobs that enable them to punch their ticket to the middle class," Perez said.

Sakthi Automotive Group supplies safety components such as steering knuckles, control arms, brake drums, brake discs and hubs. It is part of the Sakthi Group, a $1.2 billion industrial conglomerate based in South India.

The supplier, which does all of its global design and testing at the Detroit plant, plans to hire 183 workers by the end of the year. Currently it has 104 employees working on the shop floor and 75 people working with engineering, finance and other executive level jobs, CEO Lalit Verma said Wednesday during the tour.

In 2012, Sakthi Automotive Group received a $1.5 million incentive from the Michigan Business Development Program to open the Detroit plant in a former ArvinMeritor factory on West Fort Street near Livernois that was left abandoned. The plant was purchased for $7.6 million, according to information on the commercial real estate site CoStar.

Verma led the tour, which included U.S. Attorneys for the Eastern and Western districts of Michigan Barbara McQuade and Patrick Miles Jr.

At one point during the tour, Verma was detailing the process for how the engineers troubleshoot problems with products, showing off whiteboard after whiteboard of data and processes. Duggan turned to him and said, "I need to put you in charge of fire hydrant repairs."

When it comes to rebuilding the workforce, Michigan has taken the lead in the nation, said Perez.

"Michigan is a national leader because you have smart business owners, a great workforce and partnership between the governor, the mayor and other county and city elected officials," said Perez. "We want to recognize there is opportunity right here in Detroit."

He praised Sakthi for taking the lead in the community on hiring former convicts.

"I was talking to the employees here and asked them what they like most about this place. 'It's like a family,' that's what they said," said Perez. "They're not just building parts, they are building the middle class, they're building community."

(313) 222-2127