Bright Automotive no longer exists. In February, unable to pay their bills and unable to secure more funding, they turned out the lights. I am not interested in that, though. I am interested in what happened a little over one year earlier, for I think it is there that the lesson to learn resides.
As a bit of background, Bright was started in Colorado in 2008 by ex-General Motors executives who wanted to create a hybrid vehicle on a large scale. Shortly after starting, they relocated their headquarters and engineering to the Flagship Enterprise Center in Anderson and became the biggest tenant in the roughly 200,000-square-foot incubator. Anderson was a perfect choice for many reasons, not the least of which being that this is a former GM town that keeps waiting for GM to come back. Bright represented to many in the community the promise of a new GM and the biggest jewel was the plans they had of opening a manufacturing operation as soon as they got the design right, the contracts awarded, and a few other pieces of the puzzle in place. Once all was rolling, up to 1,000 workers would be employed in manufacturing an estimated 50,000 vehicles a year, and the glory days of the assembly line would be back again.
In late 2010, Bright execs had no idea that they would be shutting down soon and announced that it was time to finally open that manufacturing facility. The rub? It wouldn’t be in Anderson. It wouldn’t even be in Indiana. It would be in Rochester Hills, Mich.
But wait! We fed them and they ate at our table! We gave them praise and support, and gambled on them to help our community. When the opportunity presented itself, though, they passed up the workforce we have believed for so long to be so perfectly suited for this very line of work and they went north. The question of what makes Rochester Hills so much more suitable for manufacturing has to be asked.
To use the same dataset for both locations, it is necessary to turn to the Census Bureau’s QuickFacts for the numbers posted for each city. While today’s numbers may differ slightly, the snapshot the following table provides shows the same time period for both towns:
- High school graduates — 83.4%/ 94.8%
- Bachelor’s degree or higher — 14.4%/ 50.0%
- Home ownership — 62.6%/ 76.6%
- Median value of homes — $75,500/ $238,700
- Median household income — $34,782/ $78,086
- Persons below poverty — 22.2%/ 6.5%
Comparing the two cities, it is clear that they have very little in common. To use an analogy: Bright chose to locate in Michigan’s version of Hamilton County. The lure of cheap homes, high poverty, and an undereducated workforce wasn’t enough to pull in even a business that had been nurtured for years within our fold.
When we can’t even get an agreement from a company in the auto industry to manufacture here when they already have their operations located here, what real chance is there of bringing in any other from that industry? Maybe, just maybe, it is time to stop looking to the auto industry as the next big thing and focus on something a little different.
Columns from the Falls School of Business at Anderson University appear Tuesdays in The Herald Bulletin. This week’s columnist, Emmett Dulaney, teaches marketing and entrepreneurship.