U.S. Secretary of Commerce visits Benton Harbor

By now, you’re probably familiar with hybrid cars. Well, by the end of this year the first hybrid clothes dryer will hit the U.S. market.

“Well, what we’ve got here is Whirlpool’s HybridCare heat pump dryer,” said Whirlpool’s Jon Gable.

The new product is an example of the type of innovation that Whirlpool deems crucial to its survival. “And the way it works, it’s not like a conventional regular dryer that wastes a lot of energy in the form of venting hot, moist air outside of your home. This actually takes advantage of refrigeration technology to dry and recycle the air within a closed system.”

A full-fledged forum on innovation was held today at Whirlpool’s company headquarters in Benton Harbor. It was attended by the CEOs of eight Michigan companies and a member of President Obama’s cabinet.

It quickly became clear just how crucial the concept of innovation is to corporate survival. “I would say a majority of the products we make today, we did not make five years ago,” said Gentex CEO Fred Bauer. “It’s a survival thing.”

“This need to not just innovate with new products but completely redefine your company is necessary to be a sustainable organization,” said Jim Keane, CEO of Steelcase.

There was talk of using radio isotopes to speed up the process of getting new drugs to market, and using bar codes to keep track of surgical sponges so none would be left behind—inside patients.

In public, the CEOs shared their ideas with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. In private, they asked for her help in dealing with today’s changing business climate.

“To look at the regulatory environment and to see what cou ld we do to make regulations more streamlined, not to get rid of regulations but to streamline the processing so for a company who wants to be in compliance, who wants to do the right thing, it’s easier to do and less costly to do,” said Secretary Pritzker.

The commerce secretary did recently take action related to the quick pace of business innovation in Michigan. Pritzker established the nation’s first ever satellite patent office in Detroit.

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