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Episode 100 guests Garlin Gilchrist and Trevor Pawl

Michigan’s Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist and Chief Mobility Officer Trevor Pawl share how Michigan views the present and future of mobility, which combines the power of technology with ensuring those most impacted by change are involved in the process from the start.


Cohen: Josh Cohen
Gilchrist: Garlin Gilchrist II
Pawl: Trevor Pawl

Cohen: We have some special guests today. Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist of Michigan and Trevor Pawl, Michigan’s Chief Mobility Officer. We have a little trouble with the audio in places, but hang with us because hearing what these Michigan leaders are doing to center the human experience in mobility is an excellent way to celebrate this, our 100th episode of The Movement podcast. Let’s go.

F: The freedom of movement to access jobs, education, and social activities is a fundamental human right, but that freedom is not distributed equitably, undermining our ability to create vibrant and sustainable communities for all. Welcome to The Movement where we talk with the leaders who are reshaping their communities with brave decisions, inspired advocacy, and a stubborn unwillingness to accept the status quo all in an effort to inspire the next generation of leaders. Here are your hosts Josh Cohen and L’erin Jensen.

Cohen: Garlin Gilchrist is Michigan’s Lieutenant Governor. Prior to his current role, he was the Director of Innovation and Emerging Technology for the City of Detroit and previously worked as a software engineer for Microsoft and a community organizer for Community Change. Trevor Pawl is Michigan’s Chief Mobility Officer and head of the Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification. Pawl previously served as a senior vice president of business innovation at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation where he led the State of Michigan’s economic development programs focused on the future of mobility, supply chain, entrepreneurship, and international trade. Welcome to The Movement.

Gilchrist: Thank you for having me here to talk about this issue. Mobility is an issue that is really important and personal to me, so this conversation, this program, this podcast is, I think, really important, so I appreciate being able to be a part of it.

Cohen: I want to maybe start with the purpose of the work we’re doing on The Movement podcast is to highlight the leadership necessary to build the equitable, accessible, and verdant mobility future that we all deserve. And so certainly I think that fits in very well with the work that you’re doing along with Trevor there in Michigan. And so I’d love to maybe start with your background, certainly as a community organizer before you worked in politics and a software engineer. I’d love to maybe learn a little bit more what you learned from that experience that has influenced your work as lieutenant governor.

Gilchrist: You know, I’ve had a pretty winding career, but I think it’s really been at its core about connecting the opportunities and possibilities that technology can enable with helping people realize their potential and be their best selves. And my career began as a software developer. And then the next chapter of it was as a community organizer. And the biggest takeaway from that part of my life and career and journey was that community organizing is all about people recognizing the power and influence that they already have and the fact that the truth is they are the people who are closest to the problem because you’re dealing with them every day. And so therefore you are closest to the solution and actually know what success looks like.

And so as a public servant now, you know, I think about that every day. Do we have the people who are actually living life, who are actually confronting and addressing challenges, and are they at the table of brainstorming, at the table of consideration, at the table of decision-making? And if and when we make that true, we get better, more robust, more sustainable answers to questions. And that includes the questions around how we can have a mobility reality that meets the needs of all people, recognizing that different people and different communities have different needs and different desires. And so I think about that every day, and I don’t know that I would be as equipped with that perspective had I not been a community organizer.

Cohen: Wow. No, I think you’re 100% right. And really I love that idea of how you’re taking the inherent power that each person has and you’re helping to develop that. And certainly I think mobility is a key part of that. I believe I’ve heard you share before, Lieutenant Governor Gilchrist, about Michigan as the cultural home of mobility, which is obviously true. Yet you also acknowledge there’s been some blind spots as it relates to that access to mobility. And so I’d love to hear from both you and Trevor on tactically some things that you’re thinking about doing or are already doing to ensure that equitable access to the fundamental human right of mobility.

Gilchrist: Sure. Well, I’m definitely looking forward to Trevor’s perspective on this question as well. I’ll just say that, you know, I think that our heritage in Michigan about recognizing that mobility is opportunity and that the sort of freedom that is enabled by the capacity to move people, goods, services, and ideas from point A to point Z is an incredibly empowering, liberating, prosperity inducing experience. And so Michigan has—you know, people in Michigan dreamed about that and made that true for everyone in the world, so that heritage is really deeply engrained in us. And so as we think about how mobility has evolved and will continue to evolve, we want to continue to be the, you know, the driving force behind it, no—well, actually a pun intended. You know, we want to make sure that the mobility challenges that exist have solutions. And we actually think that people in Michigan have the experiences to be able to deliver on them and to solve them.

And so on a tactical level that means we need to take advantage of every asset that we have here in the State of Michigan, and we have many. Not only do we have—we have people for whom developing—solving mobility challenges is literally in our DNA. We have technical talent that is unmatched when it comes to engineering capacity and innovation capacity here in Southeast Michigan in particular, but that is true statewide, that no one has the professionals and the educators that we do who can equip people to solve these challenges. But we also have some people who are dealing with it. I mean, there, I think, probably one of the biggest ironies is that in Motor City, in Detroit where I live you have one third of people who actually don’t have their own private car. And we have—I think it’s fair to say—a public transit system in our city that is underdeveloped and underinvested in and perhaps underutilized by the full compliment of Detroiters. And I’m saying that as someone who was wholly dependent on it before I took office.

I’m a little unique in that regard, that I’m a statewide elected official who when I joined the campaign trail with Governor Whitmer I had to get picked up because I took the bus to work. And so we need to think about then, again, how are we centering those experiences. As we think about the future of more autonomous, more connected, and more electrified mobility solutions, how are we ensuring and how are we designing for participation? That’s also, like, an anthropology problem. Right? Like, how are we actually understanding the human condition? And I think that we want to be as conscientious about that as possible in Michigan, because if it works in Michigan with our mix of our people, our cultures, our weather, like if we solve those problems here, then those solutions can translate to many other places and markets.

Pawl: Yeah, the Lieutenant Governor is spot on. You know, mobility is not just about making our communities safer and greener and more productive, it’s also about upholding a person’s dignity. You know, we’ve built over the years automotive leadership that has been sort of focused on business models of the individual companies that were providing the solutions. And in some ways that created gaps in coverage, to focus on those that maybe couldn’t afford a car, and to the Lieutenant Governor’s point, created issues around our public transit system.

But what’s really cool, what’s happening now is at the state and our cities are taking this systematic approach. They’re realizing that the future is multimodal. And they’re realizing that through software, micro mobility, better payment systems we can make up for some of the gaps in coverage through the years in sort of a quick way and in a way that could by the end of the decade make our public transit system look very different than how it looks today. This goes not only for public transit; this goes for electrification; this goes for even, you know, coming out of a pandemic, like, you know, virus mitigation technologies, making people continue to feel safe. I mean, it’s one thing, I think, to get someone from point A to point B to point C, but then what’s the experience like as they do it? And that’s something that Michigan can shape as well and have that export all over the world.

Cohen: You started the Office of Future Mobility and Electrification this summer. Governor Whitmer announced you as the head of that new office.

Pawl: Yeah.

Cohen: What problem are you solving there?

Pawl: Yeah, sure. So the next 10 years are going to be a landmark decade for mobility. I mean, you look at electric vehicles; they’re expected to pass internal combustion engine vehicle sales by 2030. You know, software will represent more than 50% of the value of a vehicle by 2030. So it’s going to be a big decade. And the idea of creating this office was really to create a dedicated resource in state government that can unite all the different efforts in the public sector [INDISCERNIBLE] vision to ensure that Michigan leads the world in 2030 and beyond.

And, you know, we really are focused on four things; economic development, so creating jobs within new mobility; infrastructure, making sure that not only we’re making our roads safer but we’re allowing our roads to be business-model creators, our roads to sort of be a new currency by which a community can say it is a great place to live; and then the grid obviously with electrification and charging; and then workforce because the jobs impact is going to be significant. So those are the sort of focus areas for us, and we’re trying to through policy and programming move the needle through this office.

Cohen: I’m familiar with the Michigan Mobility Institute, which some of the folks that we’ve been engaged with previously at Ford*, Jessica Robinson, is involved in. I’m sure that’s kind of, like, complimentary to the work you’re talking about. Right?

Pawl: Oh, yeah, 100%. I mean, in fact, they did a research paper with Boston Consulting Group. And there’s a metric in there that we use as a barometer. Nationally the mobility industry will need about [INDISCERNIBLE] people with computer-related engineering skill by 2030—there’s that year again—and Michigan will need about 12,000 to sort of retain its poll position as a global mobility leader. So upscaling and rescaling our workforce is a big focus. And credentialing and some of the work that the Michigan Mobility Institute is doing is critical to that along with making sure that we’re being a conduit for some of these emerging mobility companies to be connecting with universities on a regular basis to ensure that, you know, the curricula that is being shared with students matches the needs of the industry. So, yeah, no, further enabling Michigan’s mobility workforce is top of our list and something that we need to focus on with a unique level of urgency.

Cohen: And you mentioned a new business model to roads. And I don’t know if this is exactly related but certainly the news from earlier this year of the start of Cavnue and this autonomous corridor between Detroit and Ann Arbor, I believe. Is that right?

Pawl: Yeah, that’s correct. That was actually our team that helped bring that deal to bear.

Cohen: I’d just like to wrap up with this question, which I’ll start with Lieutenant Governor Gilchrist. Who have been some of the leaders that have influenced you and how you’ve pursued leadership?

Gilchrist: The type of book that I’ve always enjoyed most has been memoirs and autobiographies. I’ve really appreciated first people’s first-person accounts of and perspectives about how they, you know, navigated the circumstances in which they lived or in which they led. And so I’ve been really always been struck by leaders like, you know, Vernon Jordan, for example, the former CEO of the National Urban League for a very long time. You know, he is someone who has a very compelling personal story in terms of his history coming from Tulsa, Oklahoma, but as someone who just, I think, demonstrated the level of conscientiousness and also a person who had expertise in the law but then sort of transferred that expertise to other areas.

I’m also really struck by people like Fannie Lou Hamer, a person who I admire simply because, you know, she was a woman who always had to look being underestimated in the face and yet was never afraid to demonstrate her power even in the face of that underestimation. And that level of courage, I think, is important for leaders who have to make difficult decisions and difficult choices but to do so for the betterment of the people who they serve. So those are examples of two people who I think about a lot in leadership.

Cohen: Trevor, you want to add anything?

Pawl: Yeah, the Lieutenant Governor answered that question so well, and in some—and I admire him. Right? But when I look back at the last year, 2020, and some of the leaders that have emerged from that within the mobility space, you know, what Marry Barra and Bill Ford have done, you know, halting domestic production of new vehicles in U.S. plants and shifting into making PPE, 30,000 ventilators, 50,000 masks a day. And then I look in the startup community, a company like Aurora and Chris Urmson, founder of Aurora Innovation, and how they pivoted from robotaxis into the world of mobility of goods and the future of freight. And doing that in the midst of a pandemic is a bold move. So there’s so many others. And obviously that’s just in mobility, but, yeah.

Cohen: Well, thank you so much for joining us on The Movement podcast. And best of luck on the work you’re doing there in Michigan with the Office of Future Mobility and Electrification, and keep up the great work.

Pawl: Thank you. Take care.

Gilchrist: All right. Take care. Thanks, Trevor.

Pawl: Thank you.

F: Thanks for listening. If you like what you hear, head to Apple Podcasts and subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. You can find out more at or follow Josh Cohen on Twitter at @CohenJP. Be sure to join us next week for another episode of The Movement.


*On March 1, 2022, global technology company Modaxo acquired TransLoc from Ford Motor Company. TransLoc is no longer affiliated with Ford or any Ford properties.