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Following Obama shoutout, CEO pushes for incentives for firms to hire unemployed

By: Dustin Walsh
CRAIN'S DETROIT BUSINESS

January 30, 2014

Following a name drop by President Barack Obama during his State of the Union Address Tuesday night, Detroit Manufacturing Systems LLC CEO Andra Rush plans to capitalize on the spotlight.

Rush, who serves on the U.S. Department of Commerce's manufacturing council, is pushing for legislation that would provide incentives for companies that hire unemployed workers.

Rush founded the minority-owned joint venture Detroit Manufacturing Systems with French supplier Faurecia in 2012, taking over a nearly $700 million book of interior business from Ford Motor Co. The deal put Rush in charge of one of the area's largest minority auto suppliers — and the largest run by a woman.

DMS injection molds and assembles interior trim for Ford vehicles.

Since leasing space at the Gateway Industrial Center in Detroit, Rush has focused her supplier toward hiring unemployed and underemployed Detroit residents.

DMS employs 729 — 486 of whom were unemployed or underemployed. The average length of time her workers were unemployed before starting at DMS was 18 months, the company said.

Rush wants the federal government to offer tax breaks to companies that hire unemployed individuals, removing them from public assistance. She'd also like those employees to receive tax breaks during the first few years of employment to ease the transition, she said.

"I'm trying to learn and navigate how we access grants and tax credits so that I can continue to invest into our businesses and our people," Rush said in an interview from Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. "A lot of the individuals I've hired went from recipients (of public assistance) to contributors; the government isn't paying for Bridge Cards, health care, etc."

Rush said tax reductions for a business should be earmarked for community improvement or the promise to hire more unemployed.

She said she'd use the money to fix street lights near bus stops in the vicinity of DMS or invest in child care services for employees, as well as to hire more Detroit residents.

"The city is coming around, but there's still blight, and offering safety to my employees is critical," she said. "Let's face it, if we're able to change the course of people's lives so they are not on unemployment, we're changing the course of Detroit."

Rush said she's discussed the plan with U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and hopes her dream can be a reality under President Obama's tax reform plan.

"Everybody will agree that long-term, sustainable jobs … in chronically underserved areas are a positive in every state in our country," she said. "I look for the win, win, win. You can call it a dream, I call it an opportunity."

DMS generated $594 million in revenue last year and projects revenue of $740 million in 2014 — and plans to hire more of Detroit's unemployed.