Meet Michigan’s Chief Mobility Officer
Trevor Pawl is tasked with coordinating the state’s transportation efforts and transitioning to the future.
The state of Michigan has 17 departments and more than 135 councils and commissions that are involved to varying degrees on transportation-related issues.
Coordinating these programs has been like conducting traffic at a 6-way intersection. Without a traffic light. In the rain. During rush hour.
To better focus its efforts, Michigan created the Office of Future Mobility and Electrification (OFME) earlier this year.
Trevor Pawl (Image: MEDC)
Now the state has hired Trevor Pawl as chief mobility officer to oversee the office.
Pawl plans to hit the ground running. After all, he’s spent the last eight years at the state’s Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC), most recently as vice president of innovation with responsibilities for mobility (PlanetM), supply chain assistance, export assistance and entrepreneurship.
Operating under MEDC, the new office will work across state government, academia and private industry to help coordinate current programs and transition the state to next-generation technologies and services.
Pawl’s job is to create a common vision across the multitude of departments and keep all their projects on track. This includes developing roadmaps for the next 5-10 years as well as longer-term plans over the next 20 years.
Leading the list of initial objectives are:
- Luring more new mobility investments into Michigan
- Expanding the state’s infrastructure for autonomous, connected, electrified and shared transportation
- Engaging more startups
- Developing and attracting the workforce needed to meet changing requirements
- Accelerating electric vehicle adoption
- Complementing the traditional manufacturing base with AV and EV production
One of Pawl’s primary duties is industrial matchmaking.
“Innovation is changing,” he notes. “Our office can help identify new technologies and facilitate dialogues between companies.”
This includes connecting traditional suppliers that make physical parts with their software-writing counterparts. Michigan has an abundance of expertise in the former but lags considerably on the software side—and only 6% of new mobility investments are going in that direction.
Michigan has the manufacturing capacity and knowhow, plus “deep, reliable supply chains and diverse testing capabilities,” Pawl says. He reasons that tech startups and Michigan companies will benefit from partnering with each other.
Michigan also must do a better job at developing and retaining software engineers. Citing industry estimates, Pawl says as many as 12,000 new engineers are needed in the coming years to help keep the state on track to meet future automotive requirements. Retraining displaced workers is another priority, he says.
Pawl envisions the improved communications and coordination among departments leading to entirely new programs, such as using micro-mobility services to facilitate transportation to doctor’s appointments for elderly residents in the state’s rural upper peninsula.
Another possibility: Using artificial intelligence to make busy intersections safer.
“We can’t be afraid to take a risk. It could lead to a dramatic moonshot breakthrough,” Pawl says.
He even sees opportunities coming out of the coronavirus pandemic. “I understand we’re in an economic crisis with resource constraints,” he says. “But we need to continue to invest in mobility and infrastructure to help get us through it and position the industry for the future.”
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