Defense Corridor touts ‘Arsenal of Innovation’ theme

By: Brian Louwers, Cortney Casey | C&G Newspapers | Published September 10, 2012

When it comes to southeastern Michigan’s defense industry, the region is drawing from the past to guide the future.

Economic development staffers from Sterling Heights, Warren and Macomb County have been collaborating with Macomb Community College on an initiative to promote the area’s assets in the defense realm.

The recently unveiled results included a new moniker, “Arsenal of Innovation,” a play on the “Arsenal of Democracy” nickname given to the area during World War II, and a dedicated website — www.southeastmichigandefense. com — hailing the region’s core strengths.

“It highlights what we do really well here in Southeast Michigan and Sterling Heights: top-notch engineering, design, prototyping and (research and development) work that will continue to be key for the defense industry,” said Sterling Heights Economic Development Manager Kasey Green.

The joint efforts were an outgrowth of the Southeast Michigan Defense Industry Strategy Taskforce, launched by MCC in April 2011 and funded by a $428,000 grant from the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan.

The marketing subcommittee met monthly to develop a campaign and determine a vendor to produce materials reflecting the new universal theme.

According to MCC, the Arsenal of Innovation campaign aims to highlight what the taskforce describes as the largest pool of engineers and technology professionals in the country, leadership capabilities in robotics, expertise in modeling and simulation engineering, the state-of-the-art Ground Systems Power & Energy Lab at the Tank-automotive and Armaments Command in Warren, and a network boasting in excess of 500 defense contractors and suppliers.

The Arsenal of Innovation website boasts a green-and-yellow star logo, a list of upcoming industry events, details on major players in the local Defense Corridor, links to related resources and more.

“With the new branding in place, the city is also enhancing our marketing with a defense landing (Web page) detailing the community’s assets, and we’ve been among the first to adopt the Arsenal of Innovation theme throughout our defense messaging,” said Sterling Heights City Manager Mark Vanderpool. “The goal is for all key regional partners to adopt this common messaging to enhance the whole region’s identity and standing nationally as a center for defense.”

Vanderpool called Sterling Heights “the backbone” of the Defense Corridor that leads down to Warren. The city is home to such key companies as General Dynamics and BAE Systems, as well as numerous suppliers, and the Michigan Defense Center moved its headquarters from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation offices in Lansing to the Velocity Collaboration Center, off of 18 Mile in Sterling Heights, earlier this year.

Warren has a long and storied history as an epicenter of the defense industry in the United States, dating back to World War II, when the U.S. Army Detroit Tank Plant Arsenal on Van Dyke churned out more tanks for the Allied war effort than Nazi Germany produced during the entire conflict.

The Army maintains a strong presence in Warren today. The Detroit Arsenal — home of TACOM and the Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center — is one of the city’s largest employers.

“We feel that it’s very important that we be involved because there are suppliers, smaller suppliers, that a lot of people don’t know about that are located in this area,” said Nancy Bourgeois, Warren’s director of community and economic development. “We need more because they get their business from these large agencies. It’s a wonderful opportunity for the city to get additional business in our community that we can work with and assist them, and help them to expand.”

Bourgeois said it goes beyond attracting defense contractors and suppliers. Community businesses, from food vendors to gas stations, also benefit from the influx of employers and employees.

“The employees that it has brought in to Warren have not only increased our daytime population, but the number of residents that have moved into the community,” Bourgeois said. “We’re moving full-speed ahead, aggressively.”

Though the grant funding expired late last month, the taskforce plans to continue meeting through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Michigan Defense Center, located at the Velocity Collaboration Center in Sterling Heights.

Besides the cities, the county and the college, members of the taskforce include Automation Alley, BAE Systems – Land Armaments, General Dynamics Land Systems, the Macomb-Oakland University INCubator, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, the National Defense Industry Association Michigan Chapter, and various other businesses, agencies and public officials.