Keep defense industry at work in Michigan

The Detroit News

Seventy-five years ago, Michigan became the “arsenal of democracy” because of its World War II production of military equipment. That defense tradition continues to play a large part in the state’s economy and America’s military might.

The numbers speak for themselves.

In 2013, the state’s defense industry revenue totaled $3.4 billion and financed 54,000 jobs. This is in addition to the 7,500 workers at the Detroit Arsenal, a federally-funded military facility in Warren.

More than 4,000 Michigan companies are approved defense contractors, and 67 out of 83 counties have a business that has a prime contract with the federal government.

There’s room for growth, and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation hopes to capture it.

The Michigan Defense Center and the Procurement Technical Assistance Center are working together on a two-pronged program.

“We’re trying to remind people not only in Michigan but also in Washington and throughout the nation of the impact of the state’s defense industry,” says Sean Carlson, vice president of the Defense Center.

The second objective, Carlson says, is to help companies win defense contracts. The centers help firms, particularly small businesses, register with the federal government. Companies are also given aid in navigating the extensive paperwork required to deal with Washington.

The Defense Center has a yearly budget of about $1 million in state funds, while the Procurement Center gets $1.2 million in state funding and an additional $1.9 million from the federal government. The taxpayer investment is relatively small compared with the billions the defense industry brings to Michigan.

Carlson says there is a particular focus on the Detroit Arsenal because it is such a critical part of the state’s defense industry. He notes that of the 54,000 jobs created by defense contracts, 34,000 are connected to the arsenal.

The $3.4 billion in revenue represents 62 percent of the $5.2 billion Michigan received in 2013 in federal spending.

According to Carlson, Michigan defense contracts supply a significant percentage of weapons, military vehicles and communication equipment.

The defense industry doesn’t get a lot of attention in Michigan, but it has a major impact and the state is prudent to invest in its growth.