By Brent Snavely, Senior Director
“Do you miss it?”
That was the most frequent question I got for several years after I left journalism, for at least the first two years.
“For the most part, no,” I would typically tell people. “There are more than enough deadlines and client news events and questions from reporters for me to deal with to satisfy my journalism instincts.”
But every now and then a story comes along that I want to be in the middle of. Friday afternoon was one of those days. All of my news instincts kicked in when the Detroit News broke a story just before 2 p.m. about General Motors’ plans to invest $6.5 billion in Lansing for a battery plant and in Orion Township to build EVs.
In my old job at the Detroit Free Press, I would have been dismayed if the Detroit News landed this story before us and I would have immediately alerted the entire auto team, our editors, and our politics team – and then would have fired off emails to multiple GM public relations contacts in an effort to match the story ASAP. Later, we would have brainstormed ways to write another story that attempts to get ahead of the coming announcement and provides broader context.
On Friday, it took Automotive News and Crain’s Detroit Business just one hour to post this story, Reuters posted its story at 3:56 p.m. and the Associated Press also had its story on the wire by about 4 p.m.
Kalea Hall, the Detroit News auto reporter who covers GM, told me the story “wasn’t that hard to break if you’re paying attention and asking questions.”
While I appreciate Hall’s humble response, there is a lot packed in her statement. Breaking news like this in the highly competitive world of automotive journalism requires a lot of dedication and hard work, the ability to build relationships and trust with the right sources, and the drive to ask the right questions without sitting on your instincts. Some may downplay all of this as a journalist doing his or her job, but now that I am on this side of the fence as a public relations professional, I can say all of this is done far less often than I realized when I was a reporter.
I was drawn to the GM investment story because there are multiple layers of news and meaning tied to it. At a minimum, this story involves a massive economic development and job creation win for the state of Michigan, a huge political win for Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and another key cog in GM’s long-term plan to be a leader in the development of electric vehicles.
For all of those reasons, I expect GM’s investment plan will dominate the automotive industry news cycle and Michigan state political cycle this week. Let’s take a closer look at the layers of this story:
- Economic development victory: GM plans to invest – $4 billion to build electric vehicles at its Orion Township plant and $2.5 billion to build a battery plant near Lansing that together will create 4,000 jobs – a huge economic development win for the state.
- Proof point for Michigan’s revamped economic development approach: This win didn’t occur in a vacuum. It comes on the heels of the state of Michigan missing out on Ford’s decision to invest $11.4 billion in two EV plants in Kentucky and Tennessee last year that triggered statewide criticism of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s economic development efforts and failure to be in the running for the Ford investment.
- The Ford frenzy prompted the state to adopt a new incentive program in December for large projects and to appropriate $1 billion for economic development efforts
- A big win for Gretchen Whitmer: The Michigan Strategic Fund approved an incentive package for GM today – one day before Whitmer is scheduled to deliver her annual State of the State address. Watch for Whitmer to trumpet this victory during her speech.
- A win for the UAW: The UAW is very concerned that battery pack and electric motor manufacturing will displace UAW workers who make engines and transmissions. With this investment occurring in Michigan, the UAW can also bet on a huge job creation and job security victory for its members.
- GM’s future as a manufacturer of electric vehicles: Right now, every automaker is in the process of making a transition from traditional internal combustion engines that run on gas to vehicles powered by batteries and electric motors. GMs long-term success depends on being at the front of that pack and this investment will be positioned as a key part of that strategy.
- Crosstown rival intrigue: Remember – Ford and GM are ultra-competitive. Whether the political fallout from Ford’s investment down south influenced GM’s decision or not, you can bet there will be an undercurrent of pride by GM executives as they cozy up to Governor Whitmer and I suspect the Ford team will be quietly rolling their eyes as all of this plays out.
- Dominating the news cycle: GM knows the industry as well as shareholders are watching its EV strategy closely. The company’s executives and communications staff will be doing everything they can all week to put GM in the media spotlight.
Earlier today, after the investment package was approved by the Michigan Strategic Fund, GM CEO Mary Barra went to Lansing to appear at a press conference with Whitmer as well as leaders from the Michigan House and Senate.
And I wish I could have been there.