IT and the automotive industry are becoming even more closely entwined in Ann Arbor, Mich., as plans develop for an R&D hub focused on connected-vehicle technology.
The former General Motors Willow Run powertrain plant, one of the largest buildings in the world, will be demolished to make room for a facility and test track. The project involves the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute and the Department of Transportation’s connected vehicle project.
U-M regents recently approved building the university’s own $6.5 million test track. In November, the state senate passed a bill that would make Michigan the fourth state — along with Florida, California and Nevada — to allow self-driving vehicles to be tested on public roads and highways.
“Pursuing the convergence between intelligent technology and transportation is an important place for us to be as a community,” Paul Krutko, CEO and President of the economic development organization Ann Arbor SPARK, told Mlive.com.
U-M Director of Corporate Relations Michael Drake says that developers of the university’s new interdisciplinary center are working with automotive industry partners to come up with one central idea they can rally around. “The center is looking at this future and the steps we need to go through explicitly over the next seven years to enable and test it,” he said.
The activity is expected to attract more investment and jobs from both the public and private sectors.
Auto production jobs have declined by 55 percent since 2000, but R&D centers continue to spring up. Nearly half of Michigan’s 250,000 auto jobs are outside of a factory, according to a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. The state is expected to add 130,800 high-tech jobs in 2014 and 2015, says a University of Michigan forecast.
Meanwhile, Michigan continues to generate tech job news. HTC Global Services, an IT outsourcing services and business process management company, plans to add 200 jobs as part of an almost $3.4 million expansion in Troy. And particle accelerator components manufacturer Niowave will add 120 jobs in an expansion in Lansing.