Automation Alley has facilitated more than $2 billion in global sales for small Michigan manufacturers through two decades of trade missions responsible for creating and retaining 10,000 jobs, according to the organization. Automation Alley hit the milestone after 22 years and 50 trade trips to Mexico, China, Thailand, India, Vietnam and other countries, the Troy-based nonprofit industry association announced Tuesday.
Nearly 500 companies have participated in the trade missions, which focus on opening revenue streams for small suppliers primarily in automotive and aerospace, said Tom Kelly, president and CEO of the association. "These are your meat and potatoes, ma and pa manufacturers that are doing old-school manufacturing, and we're literally just helping them get orders," Kelly told Crain's. Automation Alley, which also administers the Project Diamond 3D printing project, considers the long-running trade missions core to its mission of keeping suppliers humming. Suppliers further up the tiers have had a rough go in recent years of supply chain volatility and the industry's EV shakeup. "It's the best thing we do, the trade mission, because it really results in tangible jobs and tangible contracts for small (manufacturers)," Kelly said.
The trade program, which is tracked by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. but run separately from state trade missions, has averaged $134 million and about 10 missions each year. It is also responsible for drawing direct foreign investment to the state, Kelly said, pointing to Chinese plastic supplier Kingfa's $60 million plant in Canton Township as an example. The trade missions, which are typically paid for by the participating company and a matching grant through the MEDC, show small business owners how easy and valuable global trade can be, Kelly said.
Automation Alley has received about $2.9 million in grant funding from the MEDC since 2001 to support the trade program. "This program exists to say, if you've never been to Europe, we'll take you," he said. "There's nothing for you to do except show up and talk about your business." The association's next trade missions are Oct. 15-20 in Mexico and Jan. 26-Feb. 3 in India.
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