You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Mon, May 23, 2011 : 4:10 p.m.

Ann Arbor SPARK reconfigures Board of Directors

By Nathan Bomey

(Editor's Note: This story has been corrected to reflect that Susan Martin, Eastern Michigan University's president, is still on the Board of Directors. Also, it has been corrected to reflect that Ypsilanti does not contribute tax dollars through the LDFA to SPARK.)

Economic development group Ann Arbor SPARK, which is already in the midst of a leadership transition, is reshaping its Board of Directors, too.

SPARK announced today that it added five new members to its board, which meets annually and provides broad direction for the organization. The group also is has an executive committee, which meets every other month and provides regular guidance and oversight.

University of Michigan Vice President for Research Stephen Forrest will continue to serve as board chairman, Bank of Ann Arbor CEO Tim Marshall will continue to serve as vice chairman and Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn attorney David Parsigian will continue to serve as secretary. Executive Vice President Laurel Champion will no longer serve as treasurer of the board. She will continue to serve on SPARK's Executive Committee.

New members of SPARK's board of directors are: InfoReady Corp. CEO Bhushan Kulkarni, the new treasurer; Ric DeVore, regional president of PNC; Marty Kahn, CEO of ProQuest; Mike Miller; head of Google's Ann Arbor office; Conan Smith, chairman of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners and executive director of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance; and Thomas Zurbuchen, associate dean for entrepreneurship at the U-M College of Engineering.

Mark Ouimet, a former Washtenaw County commissioner elected to the state House of Representatives in November, and former ProQuest executive Elliot Forsyth, now an executive with the Michigan Economic Development Corp., are off the Executive Committee.

The changes come as SPARK is also in the midst of a leadership transition. The group's new CEO, Paul Krutko, started his job a month ago. He replaced SPARK's first CEO, Michael Finney, who is now CEO of the MEDC.

SPARK said in its 2010 annual report that 42 of the companies it assisted last year announced plans to eventually add 1,425 jobs.

The group also released details of its 2011 budget, saying that its core operating budget is $3.07 million. That figure includes $1.12 million from the Local Development Finance Authority — which is also contributing $225,000 for a pool of microloan funds provided to local startup companies. The LDFA is a tax-capture authority that accumulates property tax dollars from the downtown development district in Ann Arbor.

The budget includes $250,000 from Washtenaw County, $75,000 from the city of Ann Arbor and $69,400 from other local municipalities. SPARK gets another $1.55 million from other sources, including $350,000 from U-M and financing from private businesses and nonprofits.

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's newsletters.



Wed, May 25, 2011 : 3:37 a.m.

There is an annual report on in the marketing materials section.

David Briegel

Tue, May 24, 2011 : 2:26 p.m.

Nathan, Are they allowed expenses? Travel allowance? Are any funds expended on their behalf?

Alan Goldsmith

Tue, May 24, 2011 : 5:04 p.m.

So no travel expenses for any of the SPARK employee staff were reported on tax filings? Why isn't this information available if my tax dollars go to SPARK for funding?

Nathan Bomey

Tue, May 24, 2011 : 2:37 p.m.

Nothing that I can see on the tax forms.


Tue, May 24, 2011 : 1:43 p.m.

What is (if there is) the compensation given to the members of SPARK?

Nathan Bomey

Tue, May 24, 2011 : 1:49 p.m.

@Deb, Members of the Board of Directors serve on a volunteer basis. They are not paid. I just confirmed this with the group's 2009 tax forms, the latest publicly available. The employees of the organization, of course, are paid. Michael Finney received total compensation (including benefits) of about $250,000 in 2009.


Tue, May 24, 2011 : 11:58 a.m.

SPARK assumed the role of the WDC (Washtenaw Development Council). In any scientific approach to measure the effect of or on something you'd have a control group along with your trial group (with SPARK involvement). How many of these companies & jobs reported as attributed to SPARK's involvement were just created by UM's or other efforts and regular course of business development? Is the loss of Borders and merging of the Ann Arbor & Ypsilanti Chambers of Commerce attributed to SPARK as well or just the gains & uptick? In an organization bent on boosting performance metrics how does SPARK meausure up compared to a baseline Ann Arbor which one could argue would have considerable momentum by itself? Fiefdoms, picking winners & special interests: SPARK!


Tue, May 24, 2011 : 7:31 p.m.

@Townie: The Ann is distributed in the paper. I wouldn't call that disinterest.


Tue, May 24, 2011 : 4:06 p.m.

Absolutely. The latest issue of The Ann: 'We pitched out magazine idea to the local business incubator SPARK and were all but escorted out of the building.' Of course, the fact that The Ann would be a competitor to and Laurel Champion had no bearing on SPARK's total disinterest in helping The Ann... Look at the new 'board members' - InfoReady lists SPARK as a customer on their website. I guess they'll provide a yes vote to anything the SPARK CEO wants. And McKinley's Berriz? He's their landlord. Nice way to assure that the board is always 'on board' and won't question or look at anything very closely. Totally incest.


Tue, May 24, 2011 : 10:48 a.m.

If the law doesn't require financial disclosure, the entities that give our public funds could require it as a condition of the contribution if public funds. Otherwise, stop the giving.


Tue, May 24, 2011 : 1:43 a.m.

Ironic that Laurel Champion is involved with SPARK, which is supposed to be about job creation. What does Champion know about creating jobs? She's better at job destruction, witness the closing and vaporization of The Ann Arbor News under her watch as publisher.


Tue, May 24, 2011 : 12:15 a.m.

Ann Arbor Spark... The imagery is great. All companies need is just this teeny, small little bit of help, so small you can barely see it, and with that first small Spark, your business will explode! Michigan doesn't need a Spark to help it recover... Michigan needs an Inferno... A Federal BlowTorch that flames out all of the imports with taxes that make the playing field even. A Big, Giant, Flamethrower of I Don't Give A Ship what our previous Leaders? (Bush...) thought about needing to be competitive, and the treaties we signed to get us there.... This is America, right? Where we should be primarily concerned with how our American companies are doing? And the people they employ??? Sorry, the article just sparked me up.....


Mon, May 23, 2011 : 11:54 p.m.

Yes Townie, that is correct. Since they are private they are not required to make public their financials (their 990s are public but say nothing). I think David raises a good point that accepting public funding should make them accountable but, unfortunately, that won't happen until the law changes. I would like to see how much of this money goes to paying their executive salaries. My guess is that it's a bunch.

David Briegel

Mon, May 23, 2011 : 11:48 p.m.

Nathan, SPARK is hardly an "independent" non profit. The use of taxpayer funding should render it a political organizatiion. Politicians decide how to spend taxpayer dollars. I am really disappointed at the lack of response to the questions raised here and elsewhere by, especially since Laurel is on the board. I would think you would respond. Or Tony could have an editorial response. I think it is fully warranted. Since you monitor the comments here it would seem even more appropriate.


Mon, May 23, 2011 : 11:46 p.m.

Who voted to give tax money to SPARK? How can we get rid of SPARK?


Wed, May 25, 2011 : 11:37 a.m.

Peter...but wait, you are posting here too! But I assume you are ambitious and just taking a break!

Peter Jameson

Tue, May 24, 2011 : 10:01 p.m.

The easiest way (assuming that you are as lazy) would be to post as many negative comments about SPARK on that you possibly can.


Mon, May 23, 2011 : 11:44 p.m.

Do board members get paid? Laurel Champion will you answer the question, please? Thanks.

Tony Dearing

Tue, May 24, 2011 : 2:52 p.m.

Cash, see my reply to Alan above.

Alan Goldsmith

Mon, May 23, 2011 : 11:27 p.m.

Again, re: Executive Vice President Laurel Champion and her membership in SPARK's board. Does have any sort of published ethics standards for any of its employees dealing with participation in outside business interests or organizations? Most reputable journalistic organizations do. Does If so, can we see them? If not, why?

Tony Dearing

Wed, May 25, 2011 : 11:45 a.m.

Alan, we don't stop wearing our journalist hat when we join the board of an organization. The organization has to understand that if it has a journalist on its board, and something newsworthy is occurring within the organization, the journalist has an obligation to bring it to the attention of his or her newsroom for coverage. If the organization cannot accept this idea, then the journalist would not join the board.

Alan Goldsmith

Tue, May 24, 2011 : 5:03 p.m.

Tony, thanks for the information but are the standards published anywhere for review or does informally follow 'industry standards'? And if an employee who was serving on a board or say, acting as a financial volunteer and discovered something that should be made public in a story. Would the first priority be to the media outlet or the nonprofit? Or if there were internal discussion about hiring an employee who had been fired from his last job, that might be a news story and the employee had access to data of public interest. Which 'job' would trump?

Tony Dearing

Tue, May 24, 2011 : 2:51 p.m.

Alan, we follow industry standards here. We wouldn't let our journalists run for public office or actively engage in partisan politics (such as having yard signs or signing nominating petitions), but like other news organizations, allow our reporters and editors to serve on the boards of community organizations. If they do, they excuse themselves from any involvement in our coverage of that organization. Like any news organization, executives on the business side of our operation are allowed to serve on the boards of civic or business organizations, and we provide transparency by acknowledging their involvement in articles that we write. If our employees serve on a board, it's voluntary. They don't get paid for that. As I say, all of this is very standard in our industry. News organizations understand that their employees are still citizens and members of their community. If they want to engage in community service, that's a good thing that benefits the community, and we don't discourage it. Potential conflicts can be dealt with through transparency, and in the case of newsroom employees, through them removing themselves from any involvement in our coverage of the entity they are involved in.


Mon, May 23, 2011 : 10:09 p.m.

Anyone tried to get an annual report from SPARK? Apparently you can't unless you're one of few, the proud and the ignorant. I was told that it didn't need to be shared since SPARK is, quote. '...a private non-profit'. Taking your tax money and putting up phony numbers.

Nathan Bomey

Tue, May 24, 2011 : 1:29 p.m.

@Townie, Actually the annual report is available for free on SPARK's website: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Patricia Lesko

Mon, May 23, 2011 : 8:38 p.m.

Nathan, I don't believe the Ypsi school district pays anything toward the TIF captured by the LDFA. That amount you quoted draws from the AAPS only. This is significant because, of course, SPARK-East is being supported with tax dollars from the Ann Arbor Public Schools which is problematic for many reasons not the least among which is that SPARK can't provide proof of the number of jobs it claims have been actually created using the tax dollars.


Tue, May 24, 2011 : 4:22 p.m.

Nice that SPARK deigns to reply to Nathan. Then again Nathan don't start any hard reporting or asking for anything uncomfortable from them or you'll stop getting any info.

Nathan Bomey

Tue, May 24, 2011 : 3:04 p.m.

Patricia, here's SPARK's response (which I just received by email): &gt;&gt;SPARK East is 100% currently funded by the following organizations: · Eastern Michigan University · Washtenaw County · City of Ypsilanti · Ypsilanti Township · Ypsilanti DDA · Superior Township · State of Michigan Incubator Grant We do not spend any LDFA dollars on SPARK East. Our LDFA contract funding is 100% spent in the City of Ann Arbor. (Yes, the LDFA does not currently get funding from Ypsilanti.)

Nathan Bomey

Mon, May 23, 2011 : 8:41 p.m.

Patricia, I'll check on the Ypsilanti funding connection. Thanks, Nathan

Alan Goldsmith

Mon, May 23, 2011 : 8:33 p.m.

Conan Smith's thirty pieces of silver for selling out the Democratic Party ideals and supporting emergency financial managers. Good job Mr. Smith and congrats! Your grandfather is rolling over in his grave.

Conan Smith

Tue, May 24, 2011 : 7:56 p.m.

Alan, while I have been content to accept your ill-informed maligning of my principles and repeated mischaracterizations of complex public policies, I'll ask you to limit yourself to my person and not drag my family into your diatribe. It is not only mean-spirited and hurtful, it presumes an intimacy that you simply do not have. And, though I accept the criticism of my political positions and even the cynical personal attacks as being part and parcel of the sad way in which we conduct political affairs these days, I still feel it would be better, perhaps, if you would open a dialogue about how different people can perceive a policy rather than resorting to demeaning tactics. Even if agreement is beyond us, an understanding ought to be the least we strive for.