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If Michigan wants to be a leader in the mobility field widely expected to envelop the automotive industry, it needs Detroit to produce the right kind of professionals.

That's according to Chris Thomas and Jessica Robinson, co-founders of the Detroit Mobility Lab, and two creators of the Michigan Mobility Institute they say is aimed at educating and growing a network of professionals ready to work in the mobility field.

"There is no reason why Detroit can't be a major player when it comes to the origination of this mobility talent," said Thomas, a long-time investor in the mobility space and a partner at Fontinalis Partners LLC, the venture capital firm co-founded by Bill Ford Jr. "We believe that this needs to be located in the city of Detroit, full stop."

"Mobility" is a catch-all term encompassing electric and autonomous vehicles and other new modes of urban transportation like bike-sharing, ride-hailing or car-sharing programs, along with buses and trains.

Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, other global auto companies, global automotive suppliers and big technology companies have spent billions researching the technology they're betting will change the future of the automotive and transportation industry.

Thomas and Robinson, currently the director of city solutions within the Ford Smart Mobility wing at the Blue Oval, along with their team of roughly 10 people, are angling to create an institute in Detroit focused on delivering professionals who can lead in the fields of artificial intelligence, robotics, cyber security and other fields.

Exactly how they'll do that is open to discussion, the founders said. The team has bench-marked against the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, a partnership between educational giants in New York City that focuses on technology education, and other institutes. 

Robinson said the Michigan Mobility Institute is waiting to work with its partners to figure out how best to accomplish the entity's goal. The institute could be a mixture of job training as well as preparing those with experience for leadership roles in the mobility field.

The team is staying flexible, they said. The focus is creating a network with public and private partners both in the state and around the globe to hone in on Detroit's advantages in the industry, and keep the city ahead of others as a leader in mobility.

"This needs to be in the city," Robinson said. "We're reimagining ourselves as that global leader that we have been and can continue to be.

"Cities like New York, Denver and Pittsburgh have shown how public-private research collaboration can accelerate a local talent base. We at Detroit Mobility Lab envision the same thing happening here."

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