Industry uptick lures Jewish talent to a new home in Detroit.
Between the summers of 2009 to 2015, the Detroit area’s jobless rate plummeted from 16.3 percent to 5.1 percent. Michigan led the nation in manufacturing jobs created, adding nearly 74,000 jobs between 2010 to 2013 — more than 30,000 of those jobs were specific to automotive manufacturing.
Behind the automotive uptick — and the evolution of the automotive workforce over the last few decades — are stories of Jewish execs and recent graduates who have moved here to make Detroit their new home.
A Young Generation
The majority of automotive engineers move to the Detroit area from other states. After studying mechanical engineering at Purdue University in Indiana and graduating in 2013, Josh Fried moved to Detroit to become a product engineer at Ford Motor Company. Fried grew up in Leawood, a suburb of Kansas City, and now lives in Novi, though he says he “sometimes feels like he lives on I-96.”
Over the last 2.5 years, Fried has plugged himself into Jewish Detroit and views the community as “amazing, active, extremely diverse and, most of all, welcoming.”
When he lacked a seder a few years ago, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit connected him to a rabbi who welcomed him to his home for a family seder. Rabbi Elimelech Silberberg of Bais Chabad Torah Center in West Bloomfield has had him over on several occasions for Shabbat dinners, and lately he has been going to the NEXTGen Good Shabbos Detroit events, which allow him to explore a diverse array of synagogues around the community. At events, he’s come across other peers who work at Ford, GM and the automotive suppliers.
When he first moved here, he didn’t view Detroit as having such a large, vibrant community and has been surprised by the size and involvement within Jewish Detroit. He also said he’s amazed by the misperceptions many have about Detroit compared to what actually exists in the city and greater Detroit area.
Luciano Blinder came to Detroit almost by accident. The 2012 economy in Brazil, where he grew up, increased by a paltry .9 percent and more than a million protesters would take to the streets in 2013 complaining of political corruption, unreasonable living costs and faulty public services. The 2012 Credit Suisse Youth Barometer showed 50 percent of young adults in Brazil viewed corruption to be their nation’s biggest problem.
Working as a lead product engineer at Faurecia, a major manufacturer of automotive parts, Blinder’s office was short of projects. Yet, Faurecia’s U.S. office was booming, without the bandwidth to accomplish all their necessary projects. A decision was made for Brazilian engineers to move to Detroit to support the U.S. engineering department. Blinder served as the liaison for this job exchange, and the three-month position in the Motor City would be extended to six months and then nine months.
Blinder returned to Brazil in late 2013. By mid-2014, he was offered another position at Faurecia, this time working directly for the U.S. office. Blinder, who grew up in Curitiba, Brazil, with a small Jewish community of two synagogues amongst a population of nearly 1.8 million, would uproot himself and travel 5,150 miles to make a home in his new city of Royal Oak.
Here he finds a larger, more active Jewish community than in his hometown and also finds uniqueness in the different branches of Judaism that define our religious communities.
When Blinder is not working as the lead engineer for rear seats of the Cadillac CT6, he’s joined activities, such as Torah on Tap and Latke Vodka, Federation’s annual young adult celebration around Thanksgiving.
Daniel Snyder has seen the opportunities within the automotive industry firsthand. After graduating in May 2014 from Wayne State University with a bachelor’s in logistics, materials and supply chain management, he became a logistics engineer at Faurecia after completing an internship during his undergraduate studies at Continental Automotive Systems. He’s been a materials analyst at Lear Corporation since April 2015.
“The tremendous growth of the automotive industry in Detroit has had a huge impact on many young professionals in technical fields such as supply chain management. The auto industry is an addicting, fast-paced industry that will keep young, Jewish talented professionals in the Detroit area to continue to build and sustain the prominent community in which we live,” said Snyder, who grew up in the Detroit area and currently lives in Farmington Hills.
Jason Goldis, who grew up in Bloomfield Hills and graduated from University of Michigan’s College of Engineering, has been a sales engineer at Alexander Associates for four years. He recalled 2011, when the industry was coming out of the recession and muted optimism existed in the light vehicle market.
“The automotive market is a high-energy, complex and competitive industry that presents a lot of opportunity for young engineers,” he said. “The endless opportunity and continuous design innovations keep me engaged in the automotive market.”
Goldis, a graduate of Hillel Day School in Farmington Hills, notes that though many young Jews have left Detroit, the ones who have remained or returned truly want to be here and want to be engaged. That passion, he says, is what sets the community apart and will hopefully lure other native Detroiters back home.
He suggests a great way to meet other Jewish Detroiters in the auto industry is through the MIBB, Michigan Israel Business Bridge. One of his clients includes an Israeli automotive supplier, and his firm has been successful in developing business for them with North American customers
He is optimistic the region can build on the jobs growth in the years ahead.
“Through the efforts of many business leaders Downtown and in the suburbs, people are working hard to make Detroit a more attractive place to live/work/play for all recent graduates, not just engineers,” he said.
Experienced Auto Leaders
Neil Schloss is one of Jewish Detroit’s most prominent members of today’s automotive industry. He currently serves as vice president and treasurer for Ford Motor Company, a position he has held since March 2007. The San Diego-native, who moved to Michigan in 1990, is credited with helping to keep the automaker with sufficient cash reserves during the 2008 crisis and positioned to thrive with record profits in the years since. Schloss joined Ford in 1982 as a financial analyst in the controller’s office at Ford Aerospace.
Schloss said the auto industry is growing and rapidly evolving to embrace changing technology. The industry is back, he remarked, and no longer the old-curmudgeon industry because of the key role technology is playing. Schloss’ financial fortitude can be seen across the company’s increasingly international ambitions, from South America to China.
“Ford has been a great place to work — challenging to be sure, but also very rewarding. Ford has also been a great place to work as an observant Jew — always respectful of diversity and the need for work/life balance.”
Outside of work, Schloss enjoys spending time with family and friends. He supports youth movements and outreach programs including B’nei Akiva and NCSY, Aish Detroit, the Jewish Resource Center in Ann Arbor, and finds great satisfaction from his involvement with Kids Kicking Cancer.
The father of two daughters — the oldest went to Hillel and Frankel Jewish Academy and the youngest to Akiva Hebrew Day School and now FJA — Schloss is affiliated with West Bloomfield’s Ohel Moed of Shomrey Emunah.
“Our sense of community and family should be a selling point, in addition to the very affordable cost of living [especially compared with other bigger communities],” he said.
Back in the early 1990s, Belarus-born Bo Shulkin moved to Detroit. He was in his early 20s and lived in the city, studying applied mathematics and computer science at Wayne State University before getting a master’s in mathematics and a doctorate in applied statistics.
Like all automotive executives interviewed, Shulkin is surprised to have stayed in Detroit as long as he has. “I never ever thought I’d be living in the Detroit area today and working in the automotive industry.”
Shulkin is much more than working in the automotive industry. With several patents to his name, he is now vice president of research and development at Magna International, the most diversified global automotive supplier and one of the world’s top automotive suppliers. Magna International has 287 manufacturing operations and 81 product development, engineering and sales centers in 29 countries. Shulkin has been rising up the corporate ladder there over the last 20 years.
The West Bloomfield father of four kids, who has sent his children to Akiva and the Ganeinu Day Camp, today feels at home in Detroit despite his upbringing in western Russia and the extensive global trips he’s taken during his career. Magna International was the first company to bring Israeli-based MobilEye to market in 2003, and the firm recently led a $26 million funding round into the Tel Aviv-based car cybersecurity startup, Argus Cybersecurity, which also has an office in the Detroit area. The international Magna headquarters are in Toronto; the U.S. headquarters are in Troy.
The automotive industry, Shulkin believes, is going through the largest transformation in a generation and possibly the biggest since the industry began. He sees hope through this period of significant change.
“This period is an opportunity for job growth,” he said. “What the car is, how it’s bought and utilized, is all changing because of technology. Detroit is well-positioned to take advantage of the new markets if we prioritize high-tech transportation and recruit the top engineering talent because we already have the most engineers per capita of any region. But we need to create a vibrant ecosystem that recruits more technologists, engineers and transportation entrepreneurs to move here and not be afraid to learn from failure.”
A few years after Schloss began at Ford, Ben Saltsman would join Ford as a product design engineer. Saltsman, who moved to Metro Detroit 20 years ago to do consulting work, is now director of innovation for Dura Automotive in Auburn Hills.
The Moscow-born engineer who considered himself a big-city guy would never have envisioned himself staying in Detroit for two decades. Yet, he’s planted strong roots here, not only with his wife and two kids, but also with his wife’s parents who are now here.
Saltsman said he feels it is “a really exciting time in the automotive industry with a lot of engineering skills being utilized to create more software-oriented vehicles. Not just software, though, but an amalgamation of mechanical, manufacturing and electrical systems that require significant and high-level engineering expertise.”
There is so much demand for these specific needs that many companies in the area are struggling to find talent to fill job openings.
While Jews are not well-represented in the automotive industry, with few top role models, Saltsman said plentiful opportunities exist for engineers to apply themselves here and find value in the Jewish community.
Twenty years ago, Saltsman sat by himself in the back row of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield. He didn’t know anyone else in the synagogue at the time or any other Jews in the community. The late Morris Baker, though, would sit by him and acquaint him with his family in a way that made Saltsman feel more welcome in his new surroundings. The friendship that began at shul would continue for years to come.
It’s that welcoming spirit that truly allows Detroit’s Jewish community to be engineered to excel.
By Adam Finkel, Contributing Writer