Federal defense spending critical for state, panel says

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Mackinac Island — Michigan is an asset to the nation’s defense industry and the state must do everything it can to retain federal dollars for its military facilities, a panel of state leaders and experts said Thursday.

They discussed strengthening Michigan’s defense industry, as a pool of defense dollars shrinks due to federal budget cuts.

“Our nation’s defense relies on Michigan,” said Charles Perham, executive associate at the Martrix Design Group. “There is so much opportunity here in Michigan.”

Also Thursday, the state unveiled a Protect and Grow strategy to keep current defense industry operations in Michigan and work toward increasing their presence. As part of the plan, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and the U.S. Tank Automotive Research and Development Center signed a research and development agreement.

Michigan is home to facilities responsible for critical military functions including TARDEC, TACOM Life Cycle Management Command and Selfridge Air National Guard Base, all in Macomb County.

The panel was moderated by Nolan Finley, editorial page editor of The Detroit News, and featured Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing; ThermoAnalytics Inc. President Keith Johnson; General Dynamics Land Systems President Gary Whited; and Perham.

Finley noted the defense industry accounts for $9 billion in economic activity for Michigan and has some of the best paying jobs in the state.

Whited and Johnson discussed how their companies worked to support the state’s military facilities and that many of their suppliers were small businesses throughout Michigan.

“They really are the lifeblood of the defense industry,” Whited said.

There was also discussion about the automotive industry’s links to defense manufacturing.

The defense industry is joining the auto industry’s push for autonomous vehicles, said Stabenow, who also mentioned she’s been visiting military facilities to gain a better understanding of what is at stake.

Johnson said innovation will be key to Michigan appearing more attractive for defense dollars.

“As long as we are innovating, we are going be out front,” Johnson said.

Stabenow said protecting the state’s defense industry might mean getting citizens involved. She suggested the idea of activating people through calls and emails.

“We certainly have great support in the communities,” Stabenow said. “At some point we may need to take the next step.”

nterry@detroitnews.com

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@NicquelTerry