I represented Macomb on their most recent mission to the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Abu Dhabi). Automation Alley is one of the best organizations in the country at hosting trade missions for businesses and economic development agencies. These missions have resulted in millions of dollars of direct foreign investment for the entire Detroit region.
Our group, composed of myself, a representative from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), six Michigan-based companies (including Panagon Systems in Macomb County) and Automation Alley staff, left Detroit Metropolitan Airport for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Dec. 5. The 14 hours of flying time was broken up by a 90-minute layover in Paris. We finally arrived in Riyadh and, after immigration, customs, baggage and transportation, we arrived at our hotel with just a few hours to sleep before our first meetings.
The meetings in Riyadh were mostly held at our hotel. The companies I met with included Advanced Electronics, Saudi Aerospace, Saudi Arabian Development and Saudi Basic Industries Corporation. Saudi Arabia has a strong defense and aerospace sector. This was a great fit for Macomb County, which is often called the “Defense Capital of the Midwest.” My goal in meeting with these companies was to determine whether any synergies could be developed with Macomb County companies, whether Saudi Arabia companies were interested in establishing a location in our defense corridor and whether they had a demand for the products that our companies produce.
After a few days in Riyadh, we left for Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). This was an easy flight, only two hours. While we also arrived at night, there was a stark contrast between the more subdued city of Riyadh and the very cosmopolitan region of Dubai. My first vision was the endless array of tall buildings, each with unique modern architecture. While I usually enjoy more traditional architecture, somehow it all seemed to work together. Also, Dubai has the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. Ironically, while it looked tall, with the perspective of the other tall buildings near it, to me, it didn’t seem extraordinary.
Unlike in Saudi Arabia, all of my meetings in the UAE were away from the hotel. On my first day, I left Dubai and was driven to the nearby kingdom of Abu Dhabi, the richest of all of the Emirates. Abu Dhabi was a bustling area, but probably 5-10 years behind the more developed Dubai. My meetings that day were with two agencies: Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi (KIZAD), which is a free trade zone and port, and the Tawazun Company, which is an investment company focusing on defense industries.
The second day in the UAE was spent meeting companies in Dubai. Chris Bosio, from the MEDC, joined me for these meetings. We visited the Dubai Foreign Direct Investment Company, the Dubai Airport Free Zone Authority (which gave us a private tour of their facilities) and F&E Aerospace, organizers of the world’s largest defense and air show exhibition, which is held every other year in Dubai.
After our meetings, it was back to the hotel for dinner, a little rest, and then departure from the hotel to the airport around midnight for 16 hours of flying time back to Detroit (a little longer because of the head winds). This time, we stopped in Amsterdam for a short break and to change planes.
Now the important part – the follow up! I made a lot of connections with companies and individuals, several of which will be in the United States in the near future. My job is to reach out to them, invite them to visit while they are here, answer their questions and to continue to develop the relationships that may lead to opportunities of mutual benefit!
Stephen N. Cassin is executive director of the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development.