India-based automaker Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd. considered markets ranging from Seoul, South Korea, to Stuttgart, Germany, to San Francisco to establish a new automotive headquarters overseas. But Mahindra Automotive North America (MANA) president and CEO Rick Haas says that when the dust settled, Oakland County, Mich., was the obvious choice.
In 2017, MANA announced a new $22 million automotive headquarters and manufacturing facility in Auburn Hills, building on Mahindra’s existing technical center in Troy and its logistics center in Pontiac.
“It’s probably the most featured in the world,” Haas says. “Within about a 50-mile radius, we have access to universities with auto-specific programs and research. We have access to wind tunnels, test tracks and prototype shops.
“Every major supplier has an operation here.”
‘A SIZZLING YEAR’
MANA is just one company among many flocking to take advantage of all that Oakland County has to offer. In 2017, for example, 62 companies created 19,188 new or retained jobs and invested a record-setting $1.4 billion.
That included 27 international companies from 14 different countries, South Korea-based LG Electronics among them. While LG opened a small office in Troy housing less than 10 workers over a decade ago, the company in 2017 announced it would invest $25 million and add 292 new jobs at a new factory in Hazel Park. The facility will produce components for electric vehicles including the Chevy Bolt, also produced in Oakland County.
“We’re very satisfied in our 10-plus years of being here,” said Ken Chang, LG’s senior vice president of vehicle components in North America. “We see no reason to move anywhere else.”
Other major recent investments in Oakland County included Japanese auto components manufacturer Denso’s $75 million expansion of its North American regional headquarters in Southfield. And auto component manufacturer WABCO — based in Brussels, Belgium — opened a new 102,000-square-foot Americas headquarters in Auburn Hills in the third quarter of 2018.
Oakland County’s tech companies are also on the rise. ABB Robotics has maintained operations in the county for 25 years, but in 2015 the company began the production of robots in Auburn Hills, joining locations in Sweden and China as the three global ABB robot manufacturing facilities.
ABB general manager Gustavo Sepulveda said the company’s goal within the next two to three years is to produce 90 percent of the robots it delivers to North American end users in Oakland County.
Sepulveda says the county is attractive in part for its high concentration of robotics customers, suppliers and infrastructure. Robotics is one of 10 Emerging Sectors® to which the county has devoted resources to attract and retain jobs. Eighty-five firms employ over 4,400 people, representing 68 percent of Michigan’s robotics industry.
Outside of robotics-specific incentives, Sepulveda echoes Haas and other Oakland County business leaders in praising the county’s talent pool. He cited Oakland University’s “great engineering program” for being a rich source of talent.
Oakland County is also home to major innovations in the cutting-edge field of mobility. The county recently announced a public-private partnership with Toronto-based P3 Mobility (P3M) to install connected “smart intersection” technology and test the viability of monetizing such systems.
“We are delighted to have been selected for this groundbreaking project in Oakland County,” says P3M CEO Erin Milligan.
HELPING BUSINESS GROW
Oakland County government offers a variety of resources for companies of all industries and sizes. The county’s Tech248® initiative assists up-and-coming tech companies in connecting to the county’s network of 2,000-plus tech firms. And the Automation Alley International Business Center provides complimentary “soft landing” space for foreign companies locating here — one of them is Israel-based EILOR Magnetic Cores, which announced the opening of its first U.S. office here in April 2018.
John Major, regional vice president of Midwest operations for Achates Power, says Oakland County’s support has been crucial to the San Francisco-based engine design firm. Since opening in Farmington Hills in 2015, Achates has doubled its space and added 25 staff.
He says that “90 to 95 percent” of its growth over the next decade will be in Oakland County, adding, “We never would have been able to get the traction we’ve gotten and find the talent we needed to do our business if we hadn’t opened this office.”
With national and international interest from businesses of all sizes and industries, Oakland County has developed a global reputation. County staff cultivate opportunities for foreign direct investment through international trips and trade missions and provide support at every level for companies looking to locate here.
This article originally appeared in the 2019 edition of Oakland County Prosper magazine.