Andra Rush is the latest major manufacturer to invest in a new factory in the City of Detroit, the most recent in a string of developments that amount to an industrial renaissance in the original home of the American automotive arsenal.
Rush is CEO and president of Dakkota Integrated Systems, an automotive supplier that recently committed to build a $55-million facility in Motown to build suspensions, interior cockpits and other components and systems for the new version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV that Fiat Chrysler Automotive will build at a new assembly plant in Detroit.
She’s also founder and head of Rush Group, which is continuing her company’s first and major business as a leading trucking and logistics supplier in the Midwest.
“This plant not only will create sustainable jobs, but it also will create a foundation for several years to come and a platform to build with other OEMS in the automotive space,” Rush told Chief Executive.
Auto manufacturing in Detroit took a turn for the worse earlier this year with the news of the pending closure by General Motors of its “Poletown” plant in Hamtramck, on the city’s border. But then FCA announced its plans to place assembly of the important new Jeep in a mothballed engine plant near its existing assembly plant in the city. And other auto suppliers, such as Flex-N-Gate, previously had been committing to more manufacturing capacity in Detroit.
While the Dakkota plant is likely to have difficulty finding enough skills-trades workers just as most factories across the country do, Rush was confident that Detroit would be able to supply enough people to fill unskilled jobs and the semi-skilled positions that remain in short supply in the city. Detroit’s unemployment rate is 8.8 percent, double the state and national average.
“We have more than 16,000 applications, and we have about 16 months before opening to shape the skills and train the skills that are necessary” in the workforce, Rush said. “We’re also focusing on talking with high-schoolers and even younger kids and emphasizing that this could be a great way to start your career, because you can get lifetime jobs in the auto industry and also get great exposure to many potential careers in this space.”
Rush got right back into Detroit manufacturing after last year selling Rush’s stake in a joint supplier venture with Faurecia Interior Systems, which she formed in 2012 and which now employs about 1,200 people in Detroit and Toledo, Ohio.
Her trucking company also continues to grow despite a stiff challenge in retaining veteran drivers and finding and keeping new ones. Legal immigrants have become an increasingly significant labor pool for Rush.
“The average driver’s age today is 62,” she said. “They’re like iron horses, the last of the cowboys … It’s a great job.” The demands of the trucking life – long days on the road, isolation, and so on – have discouraged many potential drivers even though pay has been ratcheting up quickly.
Rush believes that one key to improving the labor supply in the trucking industry could be pressing the government to define the driver’s job as a “skilled trade,” which would open the door to establishing driver’s apprenticeship programs.
“It is a skilled trade, with so many electronics on board and so many different ways that truckers communicate,” she said. “Plus with the new laws requiring electronic logging [of drivers’ hours], we’re seeing tremendous improvements in safety.”