Transportation – the Circulatory System for Our Region
I’ve been a proud and faithful employee of the Detroit Regional Chamber for almost nine years. Those nine years have molded, mentored and nurtured my career to what it is today. Beginning in the business development area, my interest piqued in policy when I found there were a number of structural roadblocks to attracting and retaining business, not just in the Detroit Region, but Michigan in general. As home to the automotive industry, we have a distinct advantage of housing the world’s best logistics and supply chain experts. With a border that carries the most trade across any land port in North America, we have a connection to not only the North American market, but the global market. How we move anything into, through and out of this region is crucial to our economy and the prosperity of our citizens.
Transportation – a Rorschach Test
My foray into transportation issues for the Chamber a year ago flooded my plate with a whole new set of challenges and learning opportunities.Anytime I take on a new issue, I like to learn as much as I can through standard research and reading and by talking to people who are engaged in that particular business.The one thing that struck me immediately about transportation is that depending on your audience, there is one mode or one issue that embodies the word transportation. If I’m talking to UPS, they talk about logistics and supply chain, if it’s a conversation with Transit Riders United, their obvious concern is transit.There are a number of other examples (rail, ports, air…) where the word transportation conjures up a specific issue.
Transportation – The Big Picture
Many people associate the Detroit Regional Chamber’s number one transportation priority as transit, through our DARTA initiative. DARTA (Detroit Area Regional Transit Authority) died a slow painful death in the last state administration and then during a later attempt in the court system. Painful for us because we had put so much into the project and equally painful for the all of its supporters who were finally hopeful that transit in Detroit could be regional, strategic and have a broader appeal. As an occasional bus rider and someone who really values other transit systems, it was also personally heartbreaking.
While that was tough, the transportation story is not even close to complete for the Detroit Region. Transit was important to us because it meant the seamless movement of people through the region. All transportation issues are important to us because the business community depends on it everyday. If the components don’t reach the Mack Avenue plant, there will be no Jeep Grand Cherokees to sell. If the material doesn’t get to Lear, there won’t be any seating systems. If the paint doesn’t get to the Rouge Plant, the trucks can’t go to market. It seems obvious here, but what if the coal can’t reach the power plant? Or what if the produce can’t come in from California? What happens when you don’t have Internet access? No email. Yes, information is key to this discussion too. Getting stuck in a traffic jam on 696 in the morning seems like an individual frustration, but if that means a delay of 40,000 workers by 20 minutes to all sorts of workplaces, what is the impact to our output and our economic health? Huge.