Cruise Ships and Tall Ships
Need proof of the benefits derived when Republicans and Democrats work together? Visit Port Detroit, the new $22-million public dock and terminal that opened over the summer just west of the Renaissance Center. Prior to its opening, Detroit lacked a facility that could process foreign passengers, ticketing, and luggage. As a result, cruise ships touring the Great Lakes passed the city by.
With the new, state-of-the-art terminal, the Detroit Wayne County Port Authority expects 15 cruise ship tours will embark or disembark from the city in the next year (400 passengers per vessel). Because our Great Lakes attract European and Asian tourists, Port Detroit will generate demand for air travel, hotels, cultural institutions, stores, and restaurants. Over time, dozens of cruise ships will make Detroit a destination stop each year.
The dock also can accommodate tall ships (the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 will draw scores of historic vessels here next summer), and will be a meeting spot for cruises on the Ovation or Infinity yachts. A ferry service, which is expected to handle 3,000 workers each weekday traveling between Detroit and Windsor, is in the works, as well.
John Jamian, executive director of the Detroit Wayne County Port Authority, envisioned the public dock and terminal in 1998. The Republican approached U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, a Democrat, to help secure federal funding. Through numerous twists and turns, the port authority and the federal government worked together to open a facility that is now an integral part of the state’s shipping industry.
For the year, freight moving along the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway was up 10 percent. Among the 29 port facilities operating in southeast Michigan, business increased 5 percent, with more growth expected. Inbound cargo includes specialized steel used in the automotive industry, coal, and concrete. Exports are made up of manufactured goods, limestone, iron ore, and agricultural products.
Upcoming changes to federal ballast water laws, expected by year’s end, will provide another boost to economic activity. During her final term, Gov. Jennifer Granholm spearheaded stringent ballast rules that she hoped neighboring states would follow. Instead, other states like Ohio, with fewer restrictions, grabbed a good part of the shipping business.
By way of example, state agricultural products such as sugar beets, grain, beans, and corn, which are highly desired by European and Asian markets, are put on trains and shipped to Toledo. From there, the cargo is transferred to ships. With the upcoming changes in ballast regulations that must be followed by all states, it is expected that agricultural freight will return to Michigan docks.
Going forward, the Port Authority can be a valuable partner in boosting economic development in the region.
Wanted: Engineering Graduates
• Recent cuts to business taxes in Michigan have improved growth prospects, but our economy is running into a significant impediment: a lack of engineers. Over the next five years, for example, 50 percent of electrical engineers are projected to retire in the United States, according to the Engineering Society of Detroit in Southfield. Other specialized skill sets in engineering are being impacted, as well.
The irony is that the Big Three automakers, as well as numerous suppliers, are struggling to fill engineering positions at a time when balance sheets have improved significantly. The dearth of engineering recruits is also affecting many other industries in the state. To counteract the trend, education leaders and businesses need to encourage more students to pursue degrees in engineering.
One way to boost enrollment is to offer engineering students added scholarships, grants, and low-interest loans. In exchange, students would agree to work for state-based businesses, either here or at their operations around the world. In addition, more training classes should be added to help workers from other industries make the transition to engineering.
Our education system, from elementary schools through high schools, must do a better job of helping students become proficient in math and science, while offering more exciting programming. For example, the Engineering Society of Detroit’s “Smart” program works at the high school level to challenge students with the real-world application of math, science, technology, and architecture in addressing energy and environmental challenges. Similar programs should be launched in every high school in the state.
• The Wayne County Airport Authority, which oversees the operations of Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus and Willow Run Airport in Van Buren Township, should tighten its ethics policy as it relates to business and hiring relationships among employees and suppliers. The entity, which revised its ethics policy in 2010, recently came under fire after hiring a CEO, Turkia Mullin, who was most recently Wayne County’s economic development chief. Mullin had previously approved the sale of public land to the owner of the authority’s executive search firm, Jack Krasula, president of TrustInUs in Southfield.
While the authority’s application for the CEO position sought out candidates who had a history of running a major airport or transportation authority, it also allowed for executives who had operated an economic development organization (along with experience working with key county stakeholders). As a point of record, Mullin lacked airport experience, although she oversaw the so-called Aerotropolis initiative that sought to draw more aviation-dependent businesses around the two airports — an effort originally developed by former Wayne County Executive Ed McNamara.
In turn, the revised ethics policy no longer applies to most airport employees. Other questionable changes allow authority board members and their immediate families to have up to a 5 percent stake in companies that do business at either airport (the previous policy limited the stake to 1 percent). The authority should restore the ownership relationship to the original language for all workers, to remove the potential for abuse.