3D Printing

Celebrating 20 years of economic development and innovation, Automation Alley gains global momentum as an Industry 4.0 leader

Tom Kelly
June 18, 2021
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Happy New Year!

2019 marks a very special milestone for Automation Alley--we're turning 20! And we want to celebrate with you, our members and partners, throughout the year with new programming, event options and trade missions.

Entering our 20th year, Automation Alley has officially come of age. Our positive economic impact can be felt more than ever, as we energize growth opportunities for member companies and our stakeholders, and serve as Michigan’s Industry 4.0 knowledge center.


Automation Alley has had many landmark achievements in its 20 year history. As technology continues to change the way we live and work, our organization has responded strategically and aggressively. We've grown from a Southeast Michigan-centric networking membership organization to a globally-recognized leader in Industry 4.0, helping Michigan companies both large and small better understand and begin to implement digital technologies.

At the same time, we have expanded our long-popular trade missions, with 2018 marking $1 billion in export sales for Michigan companies as a result of trade mission and export activities. In 2019, we have trade missions planned for the Hannover Messe trade show, the Paris Airshow and Hong Kong, China.

The concept of Industry 4.0 encompasses manufacturing digitization in its broadest sense and we believe Michigan is poised to win the marketplace as Industry 4.0 leaders. I often refer to Industry 4.0 as the digitization of everything, because it’s so expansive. It’s where the digital meets the physical and includes robotics, artificial intelligence, sensors, virtual and augmented reality, additive manufacturing (3-D printing), cybersecurity and big data – and that’s not an all-inclusive list. What it means for Michigan as a manufacturing leader is incorporating these myriad technologies onto the plant floor to create smart factories. As a state, we need to own Industry 4.0—and mobility—to secure our future for auto and manufacturing industry leadership.

In recent years, Automation Alley has introduced a robust variety of events and initiatives to help companies better understand and implement Industry 4.0 concepts and technologies into their operations, including:

Stay tuned in via our e-mail communications for exciting new programming in 2019, including an event series aimed at strengthening the supply chain and a talent initiative that introduces students to advanced manufacturing on the factory floor.


In 1998, members of the Southeast Michigan business community approached Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson with concerns about a shortage of technical workers in Oakland County. In response, Patterson hired the Anderson Economic Group to conduct a study that revealed there were about 127,000 technical jobs in Oakland County alone and 300,000 in Southeast Michigan, numbers that compared favorably to Silicon Valley and other national technology hubs at the time.

Patterson traveled to Silicon Valley to better understand the business of technology and how it impacted the surrounding region. That visit confirmed his desire to create Automation Alley. He appointed then Oakland County Deputy Executive Ken Rogers to lead the charge.

As Executive Director of Automation Alley, Rogers grew Automation Alley from 42 original members and received recognition from Michigan governors, legislators, and on a national level, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. In 2014, Automation Alley became financially independent from Oakland County.

“Automation Alley is a true success story. From a regional startup to a global leader of Industry 4.0 recognized by the World Economic Forum,” said Kelly, who took over leadership at Automation Alley when Rogers retired in 2016. “It’s an exciting time for Automation Alley and we look forward to continued growth both as an organization and for the companies we serve.”

Automation Alley through the years:

1999: Automation Alley officially established as an organization
2001: Trade mission program created
2001: Automation Alley hosts first Awards Gala
2004: Headquarters open in Troy, Michigan
2005: First annual Technology Industry Report released
2008: Awarded the President’s “E” Award for Export Service
2009: Executive Director Ken Rogers represents Automation Alley at President Obama’s Forum on Jobs and Economic Growth
2010: Defense office in Sterling Heights, Michigan opens
2011: Troy headquarters expanded to include a state-of-the art International Business Center
2012: Attended Detroit Business Leaders’ Briefing at the White House
2012: Awarded the National Business Incubator Association’s Soft Landings International Incubator designation
2013: Detroit office opens in the historic Broderick Tower in downtown Detroit
2013: Awarded the President’s “E Star” Award for Export Service
2014: Launched Automation Alley 7Cs™ program
2014: Automation Alley announces financial independence from Oakland County
2016: Tom Kelly named new Executive Director and CEO
2017: Automation Alley holds first Industry 4.0 Conference, Integr8, to a sold-out crowd
2018: Automation Alley reaches $1 billion in export sales for Michigan companies as a result of trade mission and export activities

Tom Kelly
Tom Kelly

As executive director and CEO of Automation Alley, Michigan’s leading technology and manufacturing business association, Tom Kelly oversees strategic planning and all ongoing activities for the organization on behalf of its 800 members across Southeast Michigan, including programs and services designed to help businesses succeed in the era of Industry 4.0.

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