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Whitmer promotes Michigan's automotive sector in Asia tour

Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist stand at a stage in front of a large projector screen. The screen says: "Michigan Taiwan Office Opening Reception, Monday March 4, 2024." On the stage there is also a wooden podium. K.C Kong is standing by the podium speaking to the attendees.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is opening up a Michigan office in Taiwan. The office is being overseen by University of Michigan alum KC Kong.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is in Taiwan and South Korea this week as part of a broader effort to support leaders in the Asian automotive industry looking to expand their operations in the state.

“We are sharing our story around the world and competing with other nations to bring jobs, projects and supply chains back home to Michigan,” said Whitmer in a statement. "As governor, I will continue to go anywhere and work with anyone to grow our economy and ensure anyone ‘make it’ in Michigan."

As part of her five-day trip, Whitmer celebrated the opening of a Michigan office in Taiwan.

KC Kong will be Michigan's new representative in Taiwan and the head of the office. Kong has a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and a master's degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Michigan.

The international office is meant to bolster manufacturing in the state. Nearly 15% of Michigan’s labor force is employed in the industry, with most working in the production of motor vehicles and their parts, according to 2021 data from the state.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the auto industry grappled with shortages of semiconductor chips.

“When there were shutdowns, not only here in the U.S. but across the entire world, it took a good two years to smoothen that finely tuned supply chain,” said Josh Walsh, CEO of Michigan Manufacturers Association. “There's still some concern, there could be other disruptions.”

The shortages prompted a push from manufacturers in the state towards diversification so the industry could remain competitive amid any possible changes.

The campaign brought companies like Chinese-owned semiconductor wafer manufacturer S.K Siltron to expand operations in Bay City, and a $63 million investment from Japan's DENSO to retool production lines in Battle Creek. Whitmer's visit to Europe last year also yielded commitments from companies there to build in the state.

“If I'm providing parts, say to the manufacturing or the auto industry, but I'm also providing parts to aerospace or farming equipment, then I'm a little bit more stable than if I'm providing just to one industry,” said Cindy Kangas, executive director of the Capital Area Manufacturing Council.

Recently, the automotive industry faced a setback after Ford announced it would scale back its plans for a $3.5 billion battery facility in Michigan. The decision was driven by the slower-than-expected shift towards electric vehicles.

“It's going to be a little bumpy moving towards electric vehicles and that’s not a surprise to anybody,” said Walsh. “But people still feel confident that we’re going to have a good year for the automotive industry here.”

As part of Michigan’s partnerships in Asia, three Taiwanese car manufacturing firms are poised to expand their locations in the state.

Tun Thih Electronics, a maker of automotive radar system is expanding its operations to a new location in Northville. TYC Americas, a maker of automotive lighting, will add a new location in Wixom. Sumeeko, a manufacturer of automotive fasteners, is expanding its operations at a new location in Fraser.

As WKAR's Bilingual Latinx Stories Reporter, Michelle reports in both English and Spanish on stories affecting Michigan's Latinx community.
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