NEW YORK – Attracting workers to Detroit is not difficult, says Mary Barra, General Motors senior vice president-global product development, countering a popular notion.

“I don’t see Detroit as a handicap” to filling positions, Barra tells WardsAuto in an interview here.

GM CEO Dan Akerson in March told The Detroit News the auto maker was having difficulty attracting job candidates due to the city of Detroit’s impending financial crisis. Stories of its urban decay also have been reported in recent years by major media.

Barra, who until last year oversaw GM’s human resources division, says that once job candidates get a taste of Southeast Michigan they find they like it. “I would say the No.1 comment would be, ‘I didn’t realize how nice it was.’”

The real problem is persuading job-seekers to travel to Detroit in the first place, she says, blaming preconceived notions about the city and its surrounding area. “Detroit unfortunately has a reputation that I don’t think it completely deserves. There’s a lot re-growth and rebuilding going on in the city, which people are getting excited about.”

Barra also praises the greater metropolitan area, pointing to cities such as Berkley, Royal Oak and Birmingham in Oakland County and the Grosse Pointe communities in Wayne County as nice places to live.

“The suburbs offer a large range of opportunities for places to live, communities that are growing and exciting,” she says. “There’s a lot to do.”

GM, as with most other auto makers, is recruiting engineering talent specializing in electrical engineering, advanced propulsion and batteries ahead of more stringent U.S. fuel-economy and emissions standards that will kick-in in 2016 and 2025.

While there may be a shortage of talent in these fields, Barra likes GM’s odds of wooing engineers because of its global footprint and multitude of models.

“When we look at our global expanse, there’s just unlimited opportunity, depending on what a specific individual wants to do,” she says. “I think that’s one of the advantages we have.”

Offering fulfilling jobs in which people feel they are doing important work and can broaden their knowledge also is a GM hiring strength, Barra adds.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com