Auto expert to speak at event

Economic group’s annual meeting slated next month

An automotive industry expert will share his insight on trends and provide context to data to help Columbus stakeholders understand potential local impact when he delivers the keynote speech at a meeting of the city’s economic development organization.

Bernard Swiecki, director of the Automotive Communities Partnership at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan, will speak at the Greater Columbus Economic Development Corp.’s annual meeting, set for 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 7 at The Commons, 300 Washington St.

Swiecki is a good fit as the keynote speaker because of Columbus’ strong ties to the auto industry with multiple parts suppliers, said Jason Hester, president of the Greater Columbus Economic Development Corp.

“He can offer good insight on our local economy considering our dependence on the automotive sector and engineering,” Hester said.

Hester said he, Mayor Jim Lienhoop and some representatives from local companies saw Swiecki speak at the Japan-America Society of Indiana’s Japan update in Indianapolis. His upcoming speech in Columbus will have similar themes as the one in Indianapolis, Hester said.

The auto industry has been a lifelong interest of Swiecki’s. He grew up working in his father’s repair shop in Detroit, and during one of his first weeks on the campus of the University of Michigan in 1994, Swiecki landed an internship with the Center for Automotive Research, he said.

That internship turned into a full-time job for the 42-year-old.

The Center for Automotive Research (CAR) is a non-lobbying nonprofit organization that provides knowledge for the industry and serves as a connection point, Swiecki said, also referring to it as a think tank.

Its Automotive Communities Partnership (ACP), which Swiecki leads, connects communities to CAR and industry executives, and provides the communities with information and context that can help shape future decisions, he said.

About 20 northern Indiana counties are ACP partners, according to the ACP website.

“We provide info on auto investments, trends they need to be aware of so they can grow their base of auto employment or retain it and protect it,” Swiecki said. “You want to know if what a company is doing is being replaced by everyday technology.”

Lots of questions about the impact of the growing autonomous vehicle industry and electrification are directed his way, Swiecki said.

“That is very much on our minds and the minds of industry stakeholders in general,” Swiecki said, noting that it also is of interest to communities because of the implication to infrastructure and changes that would be needed.

CAR has a research group dedicated to studying the autonomous vehicle industry, he added.

Swiecki said his speech in Columbus will have a twofold intent:

Apprise attendees of what is happening in the auto industry and share CAR’s forecast

Provide an update on possible changes in trade agreements, such as NAFTA

He said he hopes attendees take away a vision of a healthy auto industry.

“It’s still a very attractive option for economic development,” Swiecki said. “You just have to know which parts of the industry are in growth and which are in decline.”

The annual meeting also will feature a report on current and recent activities of the Greater Columbus Economic Development Corp., such as business recruitment and expansion efforts, and the talent attraction campaign, Hester said.

If you go

What: Greater Columbus Economic Development Corp. annual meeting

When: 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 7

Where: The Commons, 30 Washington St., Columbus

Notable: Keynote speaker is Bernard Swiecki, director of the Automotive Communities Partnership at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Costs, registration: Luncheon is open to the public but advance registration required because space is limited. Seating is limited to about 350 people. Individual tickets are $45, corporate tables of eight are $360. Register online at ColumbusIN.org or by calling 812-378-7300 by 5 p.m. Aug. 28.

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Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.