Letter from the Editor: Need a LIFT?

R.J. King
R.J. King

Welcome to the inaugural issue of Michigan Makers. Our state’s rich history of mass production played a major role in revolutionizing farming, transportation, development, and heavy industry, while a cast of  inventors and innovators forged a path to prosperity for those willing to work for it.

We mastered rapid production before anyone else, and then shared our expertise to drive out tyranny during World War II. From there, our state led the greatest manufacturing expansion the world has ever seen. Now we’re at it again, setting the pace for the integration of hardware and software to propel the next advances in mobility while training current and future workers in laser-cutting, robotics, aviation, industrial design, logistics, energy, and much more.

Add in a thriving crafts scene, and DBusiness magazine — along with the Grand Rapids Business Journal — for the first time is casting a spotlight on our maker economy, a skilled workforce second to none, vast educational offerings that power billions of dollars in research and development, and future opportunities that, quite literally, will change the world. 

Say goodbye to the rust-belt economy. Manufacturing, our largest industry, is springing forward with continual advances in ergonomics and robotics, and those changes are evident in a variety of places and ways — from the largest car plants to the possibility of a wide-eyed boy or girl prototyping the next generation of super heroes using a 3-D printer on a bedroom nightstand.

With autonomous mobility ahead and brute force in the rearview mirror, we lead the way in building hardware that enables software — with all of it produced in clean, mechanized, and safe production environments.

The proof is in the details. Consider that General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles could have located their next generation of assembly plants and research campuses anywhere, but all three chose to invest in Michigan. And others are joining in.

Waymo, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has opened the world’s first Level 4 autonomous vehicle factory in a former production complex in Detroit. We also have a robust defense industry; it’s another part of our history that’s evolved into a leading brain center (with plenty of upside) that designs and produces major vehicles, equipment, and armaments. There’s also a vast array of manufacturing centered on aerospace parts, medical devices, consumer products, and locally sourced food, wine, beer, and spirits.

Makers small and large, from Grand Rapids to Kalamazoo and from Ann Arbor to Ironwood, have paired with top-notch trade schools, colleges, and universities, along with the Michigan Mobility Institute, to drive an automation revolution. To propel it to the next stratosphere, we have the nation’s and Michigan’s first innovation center, which develops and shares best practices in talent and technology between industry, education, and government.

Fittingly named LIFT (derived from Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow), the Department of Defense initiative has invested more than $100 million since 2014 in the state’s economy. The infusion, shared by government and industry, has led to billions of dollars in innovations and efficiencies.

Located west of downtown Detroit, just a Wi-Fi broadcast away from Michigan Central Station, where Ford is forging a mobility center, LIFT offers everything from the latest production equipment to makers large and small — lathes, welders, and robots — to robust training for students, workers looking for new or enhanced skills, and returning military personnel.

LIFT’s massive facility, akin to an industrial Disneyland, marks a future where our manufacturing sector has evolved from dull, dirty, and dangerous to clean, clever, and cool. And it’s all powered right here in Michigan.

— R.J. King, rjking@dbusiness.com