Ghost Town Now Boom Town: Innovative fuel efficiency technologies driving job growth, revitalizing communities

In my travels around the Midwest this fall, talking to people about clean energy and a safe environment, I’ve heard from many people how they are eager to move beyond politics and start in earnestrebuilding the economy and restoring America to manufacturing leadership.

It turns out that one of the Midwest’s leading industries ‚Äì the auto sector‚Äîis leading the way. In Michigan, for example, with production of clean cars and key components ramping up all over the state, the economy has added over 33,000 auto jobs in the last three years. An additional 20,000 jobs are expected by 2030 as a result of the ongoing auto recovery.

A big contributor to this turnaround is the new investments in advanced and innovative new technologies required to meet new federal clean car and fuel economy standards and rising consumer demand for more MPG.

These are impressive statistics, but they are not merely statistics. Each new hire is the story of an opportunity, and a life transformed. After years of seeing so many communities hit hard by industrial decline, it’s refreshing to read story after story about new hires and jobs added ‚Äì based on a new, sustainable model of automotive transportation.

College-bound: “This job is important to my family. It helps send my daughter to college,” Detroit autoworker Phyllis Anderson-Williams told Driving in a recent video. Phyllis has plans to buy one of the vehicles she is helping make at Chrysler’s Jefferson North assembly plant. “I’m investing in a Cherokee, probably next year, because they have a new transmission… it’ll be efficient on the highway… With our gas prices what they are, we need to save money.”

Onshoring advanced technology: Down the road in Sterling Heights, Michigan, Ford is in the process of adding 225 new jobs at a transmission plant.

“It was a ghost town,” Robb Miller, plant chairman for UAW Local 2280, told the Detroit Free Press, referring to the idled portion of the plant. “We’ve been watching it over the last 18 months go from ugly to gorgeous.”

Miller and his co-workers will be making transmissions for Ford’s fuel efficient hybrid and electric cars. These critical components used to be made in Japan; now this advanced technology has been onshored and is made in the U.S.A.

The transformed auto industry is also now competing ‚Äì successfully ‚Äì with Silicon Valley for top engineering talent. Recent grad Jeffrey Waldner, for example, just took a job at GM’s R&D center in Milford, MI.

“I realized how cool the work they’re doing was,” he told the Free Press. “I took for granted the type of technology [needed to build a car] and what it took to get a car running, especially a hybrid.”

It gets better: The ripple effects of industry resurgence are also being felt small businesses, like nuts-and-bolts maker Select Fasteners Fast in Kentwood, Michigan.

A few years back, things were looking bleak for this seven-person family-owned business. “There was a point when I took over the books, I thought we were going to close,” owner Kyle Hanson told MLIVE.

Business is looking much better now. Among Kyle’s customers is Walker, Michigan-based Challenge Manufacturing, which makes engine parts for GM’s super-efficient plug-in vehicle, the Chevy Volt. Deals like that have allowed Kyle to hire an additional employee, and given the company their best year in over a decade.

“This year,” Kyle adds, “is going to be even better.”

Tiffany Ingram is the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Midwest Advocacy Director.


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