Report: Need for skilled workers, EV chargers supports Whitmer budget proposals

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Outlining the needs for electrification infrastructure and incentives, skilled workers and mass transit, the first report from Michigan's Council on Future Mobility & Electrification helps to create a basis for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's $25 million proposal for investments in transportation and mobility funding, officials said Thursday.

The report sets the baseline of the assets and policies Michigan already has toward establishing automated, connected and electric transportation. It will help to provide guidance on the creation of policy recommendations later this year to ensure Michigan stays at the forefront of innovation in the industry, said Trevor Pawl, the state's chief mobility officer.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's Michigan Futures Initiative would direct $8 million to Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy to deploy electric vehicle charging along major commercial corridors and incentivize small businesses and school districts to make their fleets electric.

"Together, the governor's Mobility Futures Initiative and this council's first annual report," he said Thursday during a virtual meeting with media, "provide a solid foundation that ensures our state retains its global leadership position in mobility."

Whitmer a year ago by executive order created the Council on Future Mobility & Electrification, made of government officials, auto executives, union representatives and academics to assess the state’s ability to navigate key trends in the industry and how legislation can help Michigan succeed further.

The Office of Future Mobility and Electrification would work with other state departments to implement the $25 million Michigan Futures Initiative. 

It includes $15 million for the Labor and Economic Opportunity Department for the development and implementation of a long-term strategic plan for workforce tools that will help to ensure a supply of skilled employees who are needed as the industry and its technology transforms. That includes creating a platform for new credential pathways and establishing credential programs based on the changing needs of businesses.

Helping workers to learn and deploy news skills will be important, as the simpler drivetrains of electric vehicles compared to traditional gas- and diesel-powered automobiles, could result in the "displacement in both manufacturing and aftermarket maintenance," the council's report warns.

Additionally, Michigan will need to graduate or attract about 12,000 computer-related engineers to retain its leading global position in mobility.

The governor's proposal also would provide the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy with $8 million to deploy electric vehicle charging along major commercial corridors, especially for medium- and heavy-duty trucks. The state has 480 publicly accessible charging stations with nearly 1,400 charging outlets and another 146 charging stations at private businesses in Michigan.

"This has helped reduce range anxiety concerns and turned on some of the on-the-fence EV buyers, but the truth is we have a long way to go," Pawl said.

Per 100,000 people, Michigan falls in the bottom third of all 50 states and Washington, D.C., for the number of EV charging stations.

A new "Flip Your Fleet" program would incentivize small businesses and school districts to adopt electric fleets on Michigan's way to carbon neutrality by 2050.

"There are certain things," Pawl said, "we need to do on the policy side, whether it's EV charger credits or streamlining permitting and installation" and coordinating with federal plans.

Finally, the state would direct $2 million to the Transportation Department for addressing regional mobility and inequity in Michigan’s transportation system by supporting on-demand service pilots in underserved areas.

"I don't think you can claim global leadership over the entire space" of mobility, Pawl said. "We need to leverage that automotive advantage to help move folks around, to create more dynamic routing, to create more seamless automated payments, to look at mobility as a service platform statewide to say how can we create efficiencies and leverage best practices."

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble