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Posted on Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Does Washtenaw County need to attract a major corporate headquarters?

By Lizzy Alfs


Global pizza delivery chain Domino's Pizza is headquartered in Ann Arbor Township, where it employs between 550 and 600 people.

Melanie Maxwell | file photo

Is attracting a major corporate headquarters vital to Washtenaw County’s economic growth?

That question, posed by University of Michigan economists last week, is something the county’s political and business leaders need to consider as the region emerges from the depths of the recession.

Washtenaw County’s corporate headquarters sector — defined as the “management of companies and enterprises” — has declined 76 percent since 1999, according to a recent economic forecast conducted by U-M’s George Fulton and Donald Grimes.

The industry employed 3,058 workers in Washtenaw County in 1999, and by 2012, the workforce fell to 742 people. The loss was fueled partly by Borders’ liquidation in 2011. The bookstore chain employed about 400 workers at its corporate headquarters in Ann Arbor.


University of Michigan economist George Fulton delivered his annual Washtenaw County Economic Outlook report last week.

Angela J. Cesere | file photo

From 2013 through 2015, the sector is expected to add 63 jobs. The forecast predicts the county, as a whole, will add 12,961 new jobs in the three-year period, replenishing all of the jobs lost during the recession as early as next month.

“This (sector) did stick out in the report, of course, because of the loss we’ve taken in the past 10 or 15 years,” Fulton said in an interview. “It’s pretty significant on a percentage basis. It would be nice to kind of reverse that trend.”

Defining the sector is difficult; the federal government divides employment into 171 industries, and the corporate headquarters industry likely only includes certain positions at local, national and international companies headquartered in Ann Arbor.

Still, it poses an interesting question: should community leaders focus their attention on attracting more big companies here?

Paul Krutko, chief executive officer of economic development group Ann Arbor SPARK, said it’s more important to help the region’s existing or startup companies thrive, rather than trying to relocate big companies here.

“The notion that you would go to another community with a set of incentives and benefits to attract a large corporate headquarters to move to a community — I think that those days are long gone,” he said. “What is more productive is to work with your existing companies and growing new companies.”

Washtenaw County has a thriving knowledge-based community, consisting of many small companies across various sectors. The forecast predicts the professional and business services sector, which includes most of the region’s technology and consulting firms, is expected to add 1,873 jobs through 2015.

“We’re talking about a lot of small companies growing rapidly, rather than plunking down 3,000 workers in one shot,” Fulton said, referring to that sector’s growth.

Fulton and Grimes said Washtenaw County is unique in that it doesn’t rely on a single major sector — like automotive manufacturing — to fuel the economy. Rather, its recovery is broad-based across many industries.

But still, Fulton said, big companies are economic drivers.

“I would not call it critical (to grow the headquarters sector), but I would call it highly desirable,” he said. “Washtenaw will chug along without it, but obviously, it’s highly desirable to get that type of operation and those types of employees.”

Domino’s Pizza CEO Patrick Doyle said the global pizza delivery chain employs between 550 and 600 people at its headquarters in Ann Arbor Township. The 53-year-old company recently reinforced its commitment to the area when it renewed its lease in the Domino's Farms Office Park for 10 years.


Con-way Freight employs 401 people at its offices in the Ann Arbor area.

Photo courtesy of Con-way Freight

Con-way Freight — a company hit particularly hard by the recession — now employs 401 people at its offices on Old Earhart Road and is looking to hire. In the privately-owned category, Ann Arbor’s McKinley Inc. employs 1,600 people across the country, including 500 in Michigan, said CEO Albert Berriz.

Doyle said his pizza company, which is growing rapidly overseas, remains committed to Washtenaw County for one main reason: the talent pool.

“The reason you choose to headquarter a company somewhere is because you’re convinced that you’re going to be able to access the best talent for the needs of your company. Ann Arbor serves us incredibly well on that front,” he said.

He estimated that a third of the employees at the Domino’s headquarters work in the company’s technology division, which is well staffed with U-M, Eastern Michigan University and Michigan State alumni.

Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje said the city has focused its efforts on boosting the area’s “quality of life” factor, which in turn attracts companies and convinces talented workers to live and work in the area.

“Certainly, attracting a major headquarters is a topic that comes up, but I’m not sure we should be expending a lot of energy in that direction,” he said. “Improving quality of life is the best thing we can do for economic development.”

He said the city doesn’t provide many tax abatements, but instead, focuses on growing the area’s existing companies. He said the $1 million in free parking incentives the city provided to Google was important in creating downtown’s “tech campus,” but it’s not something Ann Arbor relies on to promote business development.

“I’d rather see the growth in a number of small companies. I don’t really want to do anything extra or spend resources to bring in a headquarters, particularly not downtown,” he said.

Added Krutko: "We’d rather be able to support the growth or attraction of 10 companies to equal 3,000 jobs than a single company. If you have 10 companies and one goes out of business, you still have 90 percent of what you had before."

Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at Follow her on Twitter at



Tue, Apr 2, 2013 : 2:21 p.m.

JimmyD, good point (of unique advantage) besides who wants another Google, that makes promises gets big tax breaks and does not come through with the promise of jobs. Help the HQ's that Ann Arbor aready has, make it "easy to do Business with."


Tue, Apr 2, 2013 : 1:23 a.m.

Faurecia, a major international auto component manufacturer with a plant in Saline, just announced their North American Headquarters would be built in Macomb County. Maybe if our local officials had some insight, they could have at least put together a presentation to sway the company this way. Ann Arbor is a much nicer location with some of the best schools and universities. My guess is our city government didn't have a clue.


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 7:28 p.m.

AA needs private investors to buy up all the prime real estate and force the U to shop for property in the outlying townships to prevent them from taking any more property off of the local tax rolls.


Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 11:36 a.m.

Your approach does not solve a problem. The U-M does more for the community than it takes away in tax base. If you lived outside of there during the recession you would see that since we are not base in manufacturing and automotive, and have one of the most renouwn institutioned at the heart, our economy has historically been much more stable and grows at a much healthier rate. It is why we do not have the same challenges as Saginaw, Flint, Lansing, Detroit, Toledo, Youngstown, Benton Harbor, ....


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 10:08 p.m.

lefty....nope we don't want them.Ann Arbor is stuck with them.If you zip is 48197 why would you want them ?


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 3:52 p.m.

Yes and send them to Ypsilanti, Water Street Project.

Dog Guy

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 2:50 p.m.

Has Satan moved Pandemonium International HQ from Ann Arbor?

Lizzy Alfs

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 2:49 p.m.

It does seem that companies tend to stay in the communities where they were founded. Paul Krutko brought up a good point: If you nurture Ann Arbor's existing and startup companies when they need it most in the beginning, you can watch them grow in the area and they could become big national companies (Borders). He used Menlo as an example as a company that one day could want to open another office, but Rich Sheridan will probably always keep it based here in Ann Arbor.

Larry Baird

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 9:07 p.m.

"... "management of companies and enterprises" — has declined 76 percent since 1999,.." This should be a cause for concern, for every Menlo, there are many more small local companies that are eventually bought out by large out of town companies and the local offices are usually reduced and/or eventually closed - Medstat, Esperion, Proquest, etc.


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 2:13 p.m.

"Tech campus". Yeah, sure. Just keep saying it.

Basic Bob

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 1:44 p.m.

I'd rather see new factories employing thousands of skilled workers.

Top Cat

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 12:59 p.m.

What we need is a minor league baseball team.


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 1:55 p.m.

If you build it...


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 1:07 p.m.

Top Cat......nooo... baseball is too violent


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 12:41 p.m.

Washtenaw County in the midst of a 6-year economic rebound, adding 25,000 jobs, that being the case as claimed then why do you need more corporate headquarters in the area, or was this your forecast if you get more corporate headquarters?

Lizzy Alfs

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 2:50 p.m.

The forecast isn't saying those job numbers will only come true if a corporate headquarters moves here. But it did say it's desirable to have that kind of operation.


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 12:15 p.m.

Spending to "steal" a big HQ from another city is a waste unless A2 offers some type of unique advantage. Very few HQ's really want to pay to relocate hundreds of highly paid personnel. Focus on improving the community and providing efficient government services (see Wayne County and Detroit for bad examples).


Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 11:32 a.m.

Very good viewpoint.

Lizzy Alfs

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 2:52 p.m.

You're right - there are a lot of logistics that go into moving a company and it can sometimes be a big inconvenience. @JimmyD you said "unless A2 offers some type of unique advantage" I can think of an example: Cole Taylor Mortgage relocated to Ann Arbor from Hamburg Township in 2011. Willie Newman said it was a beneficial move to the company for several reasons, including Ann Arbor's quality of life, attracting talented workers, etc. That's the kind of move that makes sense to me.

Basic Bob

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 1:43 p.m.

I've seen companies try to relocate their key staff to another state. Everyone goes looking for another job. Some stay in town, some move and go to work for competitors, and the rest relocate with the company while they plan their next move. Trying to move a headquarters from a neighboring community is not so neighborly. It might work if a company really needs a new building to accommodate growth or most of the management already lives here.