A fake city rising from the middle of a Midwestern college campus is more than a proving ground for autonomous and connected car technology expected to revolutionize American roads. It’s a lynchpin in Michigan’s strategy to stay economically relevant and prevent automotive technology jobs from being poached by Silicon Valley.

Some dignitaries who spoke Monday at the opening of Mcity, a 32-acre test lab that simulates the look and feel of a regular traffic environment, only made oblique references to the competition between Detroit, the auto industry’s longstanding home, and the Bay Area, where major OEMs have all opened offices. Others were blunt.