TRAVERSE CITY, MI – A top executive with the Michigan Economic Development Corp. is not a native of the state. He’s not even from the U.S.

Nigel Francis is an Englishman who can tell you where to find cricket fields in Troy, MI, north of Detroit.

He’s a state booster in his role as MEDC’s senior vice president-automotive industry office. Gov. Rick Snyder appointed him to promote, retain and grow the auto industry in Michigan.

“I’m a businessman, not a politician,” says Francis, who has worked in the auto industry at various OEM and supplier postings in the U.S., Asia and Europe.

He touts the auto industry’s comeback and its effect on Michigan. “Gov. Snyder says the auto industry is the most important industry in the state, so you are our most important customers,” he tells attendees at the 2014 CAR Management Briefing Seminars here.

Anyone who can’t see the energy and optimism of today’s auto industry “needs Google Glasses,” he says, crediting that resurgence as a collective effort of the private sector, government and “even academia.”

He holds a bachelor’s degree from Brunel University in London, and his professional affiliations include the Institute of Mechanical Engineers of Great Britain.

Stateside, one of his current projects not only is to draw talent to Michigan but also to keep it put.

He jokes one way to achieve the latter is to “confiscate the driver’s licenses and passports of young Michigan residents so they can’t leave.”

More seriously, Jason Prater, a vice president at software provider Plex Systems, says drawing young prospects to Michigan and particularly to its largest city, Detroit, the U.S. auto industry’s epicenter, relies on making the region an exciting place to live.

“You need a vibrant city to pull people in,” he says. “Yeah, Ann Arbor is a draw, but you need a vibrant Detroit.”

Incidentally, cricket fields also are at Belle Isle, a Detroit park, says William  Jones, CEO of Focus: Hope, a nonprofit job-training program located in the city.    

sfinlay@wardsauto.com