Traverse City Companies Try To Catch A Ride At CAR Conference
By Craig Manning | Aug. 6, 2019
Monday evening marked the start of the 2019 Management Briefing Seminars (MBS), the global auto industry conference hosted by the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. 2019 marks the 54th year the CAR MBS show has called Traverse City its home. While the conference has been coming north for decades, though, it’s only been within the past few years that local businesses have tapped into the “who’s who” auto event.
"[CAR MBS] is this gem that really hasn't been well-leveraged by our community since it arrived here,” says Bill Myers, CEO of Promethient, a local tech startup that will have a presence at this year’s conference. “In the last couple years, I think we've been more actively trying to engage with the business leaders that attend that conference, and that's been a positive.”
Promethient specializes in personal heating and cooling technology via its proprietary Thermavance technology (think of heating or cooling seats, armrests, or center consoles). Thermavance could theoretically give each passenger more nuanced temperature control while also reducing energy usage.
Promethient was one of numerous local organizations to attend CAR MBS in 2018. Myers spoke as part of a panel, and the business got a chance to show off a bus seat featuring its technology. CAR MBS brought more than 1,000 people from more than 400 companies to Traverse City in 2018, many of them from the car manufacturers and suppliers Promethient is trying to reach.
“We were able to expose a lot of automotive leaders who were in attendance – as well as members of the media – to the concept of conductive heating and cooling technology,” Myers says.
This year, Promethient was one of three Traverse City companies invited by CAR to participate in the “Startup Village,” a collection of up-and-coming businesses that will have opportunities tonight (Tuesday) and Wednesday evening to connect with attendees and arrange meetings with potential investors. Joining Promethient are Traverse City’s Starboard Corporation, a company that offers solutions for logistics and supply chain management; and Naveego, a cloud-based platform that helps businesses manage data and detect inaccuracies.
"It's an opportunity for us to have a trade show booth, without the big trade show booth budget you'd expect at these major conferences,” says Naveego CEO Katie Horvath. “Two of the evenings, during the networking hour, they'll have tables set up for different startup businesses. Attendees at the conference will go around, check them out, and see what looks interesting to them."
Last year, Naveego participated as part of the Grand Traverse Area Manufacturing Council (GTAMC) booth at CAR MBS. Through that opportunity – as well as a meeting with CAR CEO Carla Bailo – Horvath was able to get Naveego onto a pair of statewide task forces.
“The business opportunities and connections it provides are great, and have provided a way for us to launch even further into the global stage,” Horvath says.
While local startups see CAR MBS as a way to break into the global auto market, Mike Groleau of plastic injection molding company RJG, Inc. says the conference is also valuable for local companies already established in the industry. Auto suppliers make up about half of RJG’s customer base, and this event gives exposure to industry players – and a glimpse into the future.
"The CAR conference is a great place to understand industry trends, what's coming down the pipeline, and how we need to be positioned to anticipate the needs of that market,” Groleau says. He recalls a few years ago when an MBS presenter predicted an auto industry slowdown due to the pivot toward more electric and autonomous vehicles. Now it’s here, and RJG has been able to weather it.
"That was a trend that we were able to learn about and then adjust our strategy well in advance of it happening."
No matter how Traverse City companies are using CAR MBS, Myers is just pleased that local businesses are finally taking advantage of the conference, putting northern Michigan’s growing tech and manufacturing sectors on the global map.
"So much of this has to do with putting Traverse City in a light that isn't just about tourism,” he says. “If we can make the people that attend CAR MBS aware of the manufacturing base that we have in the Traverse City area…that's going to help our community and help economic development in particular."