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A new Michigan agency navigates the state's EV workforce transition

Person working on a Ford electric truck
Ford manufactures some of its electric vehicles at its River Rouge complex in Dearborn.

Officials from a new state office met with stakeholders this week to talk about efforts to prepare workers and businesses for Michigan's move away from fossil fuel-based industries.

Jonathan Smith is senior chief deputy director of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) and says the state's Community and Worker Economic Transition Office will help keep people from being left behind in that transition.

“What makes me really excited about this work is it does create a huge opportunity for Michigan to do something that no other state has done, which is combine our clean energy and our environmental goals with our economic development and our equity goals and really do something that is comprehensive and whole,” Smith said.

The office has met with stakeholders nine times since coming together in February. The initial meetings led to a summary of the initial feedback and plans for the agency presented earlier this week.

A couple dozen stakeholders attended Monday's roundtable discussion, including representatives from Detroit, Redford Township and various affected industries.

Terri Weems is group executive of workforce for the city of Detroit. After the meeting, she said she’s optimistic but concerned about making sure people are trained and available for future jobs.

“But I love, again, the fact that we’re proactive in planning for it as we begin to understand what is necessary, we’re going to have a plan in place to make sure that our employers have the talent that they need,” Weems said.

Smith, with the state labor department, said the transition office is still in its early days and is staffed with dedicated LEO employees in the interim while it waits on a budget appropriation from the state Legislature.

State Sen. Mary Cavanagh (D-Redford Twp) chairs the state Senate subcommittee that handles writing the LEO budget proposal, which is offering $2.5 million to help cover 10 fulltime employees and other expenses.

Cavanagh said she can see the office receiving more funding in the future once it makes some progress.

“I think this is a really good idea. I think this is exactly what Michigan needs but we need to do it right. So, we need to be very strategic and fiscally responsible of what this office looks like and what our community needs,” Cavanagh said.

The governor’s budget recommendation includes 20 fulltime employees for the office and twice as much funding.

A proposal from the Michigan House of Representatives includes 10 employees but would keep the funding level at $5 million.

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