Wheels Up

During a recent visit to the East Coast, the level of appreciation people had for Detroit and Michigan was refreshing.

 During a recent visit to the East Coast, the level of appreciation people had for Detroit and Michigan was refreshing. Rather than focusing on our economy or loss of population, the inquiries centered on our breadth of manufacturing, skilled labor, and natural resources.

Business leaders I met — defense contractors, manufacturers, technology specialists — understood that Detroit and Michigan can design, engineer, and produce just about anything. Throw in attractive real estate rates, both for lease and for sale, along with an improved corporate tax structure and regulatory reform, and you have the makings of an economic revival.

We may not see it here, but corporate leaders from outside the state are taking note. In fact, the cost of doing business in Michigan is nearly competitive with outsourcing markets like India (all things considered). And given the choice, most domestic executives favor setting up operations in the U.S. rather than dealing with exchange rates, language barriers, political unrest, and foreign time zones.

One sweet spot of opportunity in Detroit’s comeback is aviation. We have a history here — Henry Ford established the modern aviation industry in the 1920s, and many of the automakers built planes during World War II.

The industry has come a long way since then, but challenges abound. The FAA recently mandated that all aircraft be equipped with GPS-enabled communication systems by 2020, among other requirements.

The reason: Rising fuel costs, greater security measures, and technological limitations are causing major airlines to reduce flights. Most recently, Delta Air Lines canceled service to five northern Michigan communities, along with other U.S. destinations.

While today’s planes fly faster than ever before, the time it takes to travel between two destinations has actually increased due to enhanced security measures and communication limitations. The new equipment will alleviate many of these shortcomings.

Traveling by small plane, I listened intently as pilots and air traffic personnel using radar (1940s technology) communicated via party-line radio (really, that’s what they call it). Best described as controlled chaos, the pilots and ground control personnel did their best to operate in a challenged environment.

If ever there was an industry ripe for a 21st century technology overhaul, aviation must be at the top of the list. With manufacturing expertise, skilled labor, and available industrial and R&D space, Detroit and Michigan are ideally positioned to grab a good share of the work, including the design and production of advanced aircraft. We just need to go out and get it. db

bR.J. King