Derek Jenkins is chief designer for Mazda’s design center in Irvine, Calif. The center opened in 1988 and is the birthplace of the MX-5 Miata. It employs about 20 people — designers for the interior and exterior, clay modelers, digital modelers, painters and fabricators.

Derek believes the California location is a major asset to Mazda’s designers — providing them insight into the latest and upcoming trends.

"If we can be competitive in this marketplace, we have a really good shot at being globally competitive," he says.

The location also means skilled local suppliers and other companies are able to contribute to the center’s finished designs.

"There’s just a lot of industry that can support what we need to do, whether it be through research or fabricating prototypes, marketing information and general trend information," Derek says. "All of these resources and all of the expertise exists within the southern California area."

Derek feels the auto industry and its suppliers are an important part of the manufacturing landscape in the United States and around the world.

"The automobile is the most complex, technology intensive, manufacturing intensive, engineering intensive, design intensive product that an industry or a country can make," he says. "So, if you have a strong, creative and capable automotive industry, I feel like you have a foundation that can do virtually anything."