Speedway chief Roger Curtis joins Snyder administration

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder has tapped former Michigan International Speedway President Roger Curtis to run the state Department of Talent and Economic Development, a move the administration framed as an “expansion” of efforts to attract industry and jobs.

Snyder announced Wednesday that Curtis will take over the department from current Director Steve Arwood, who will continue as chief operating officer of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. The governor made the move while still in China on an eight-day investment trip that is scheduled to end Saturday.

Arwood had been working for Snyder in both roles, but the governor’s office said “developing talent and cultivating economic success are both so important to continuing Michigan's comeback that they deserve additional singular focus.”

Curtis’ appointment is effective Nov. 28 but is subject to the advice and consent of the Michigan Senate. He will earn $175,000 annually.

“Our unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in 15 years, and the current challenge is matching people with the skill sets to fill the demands of the current and future job market,” Snyder said in a statement. “Roger Curtis is well known for his passion and drive. He is the right person to take Michigan’s talent efforts to the next level.”

Curtis, 49, abruptly resigned as president of the Michigan International Speedway in August, ending a 10-year run marked by creative attempts to draw auto racing fans to the track and introduce NASCAR to millennials. He said at the time he was not forced out but did not have any other job prospects lined up.

Curtis could not immediately be reached for comment.

He worked at other speedways across the country before coming to Michigan. He earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Indiana University and is treasurer of the Onsted School Board.

Snyder created the Department of Talent and Economic Development through executive order in late 2014. It serves as an umbrella organization for the Michigan State Housing and Development Authority, along with the Michigan Strategic Fund.

The executive order allowed Arwood to run the new department and concurrently serve as CEO of the MEDC, subject to approval by the MEDC executive committee. He will retain the latter role.

Arwood is playing a central role in the state’s autonomous and connected vehicle industry, which has become a “larger and larger” part of his job, said Talent and Economic Development Department spokesman Dave Murray.

“Bringing Roger on board allows him to focus entirely on talent — which, of course, is a key part of growing that rapidly changing industry and the state as a whole.”

It’s the latest in a string of administration appointments this year by Snyder, who is approaching his final two years in office before term limits will force a replacement.

Snyder in July appointed former BP America lobbyist Heidi Grether to run the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Previous director Dan Wyant resigned over the Flint water crisis in late December.