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Posted on Tue, Jan 31, 2012 : 5:37 p.m.

Entrepreneurs cite 4 emerging opportunities to accelerate Michigan's economic recovery

By Nathan Bomey

The auto industry is getting most of the credit for Michigan’s gradual economic recovery, but economists generally agree that the auto industry’s resurgence can only stabilize the economy. It won’t lead to a sustainable period of growth.


Ann Arbor-based Estrakon Inc., which makes specialized LED lighting displays like this one, expects to add about 13 jobs in 2012. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. says solid-state lighting is a good opportunity for Michigan.

Photo courtesy of Estrakon

President Barack Obama, who has made the comeback of the U.S. auto industry a centerpiece in his re-election campaign, acknowledged that the manufacturing sector’s potential is limited.

“Not all the jobs that have gone overseas are going to come back,” Obama told a crowd of 4,000 in Ann Arbor on Friday. “We have to be realistic.”

That’s why Michigan — while celebrating the auto industry’s focus — is aggressively pushing into new industries.

More than 1,000 entrepreneurs, business executives and economic development leaders are gathered today at the Annual Collaboration for Entrepreneurship event at Ann Arbor’s Skyline High School to discuss various issues facing Michigan’s entrepreneurial economy.

Here are four specific industries cited at the conference as strong growth opportunities for the state:

--Food safety and protection. Michigan’s agricultural sector is worth about $71.3 billion, and it’s flourishing. But food safety remains a huge opportunity, said Joan Bowman, vice president of external affairs for Battle Creek-based Global Food Protection Institute.

Bowman said the Global Food Protection Institute is hoping to become a full-service business accelerator that will help Michigan companies develop technologies to prevent disease outbreaks. That includes technologies that can address issues in farm fields, processing and retail sales.

“Food protection makes sense for Michigan,” she said. “We’re looking at technologies that can rapidly identify pathogens and toxins in food and ones that are easily transportable in the field and give a quick result. Specifically we’re looking at technologies that have advanced past the laboratory and university phase and are ready for commercialization.”

In Ann Arbor Township, not-for-profit NSF International, which has more than 400 employees, is already a key player in the food auditing industry.

--Electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Although the battery sector has encountered significant obstacles, the gradual rollout of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and fully electric cars presents a significant opportunity for charging infrastructure, said Larry Granger, chief information officer of startup Livonia-based PEP Stations LLC.

PEP Stations expects to manufacture between 500 and 1,000 charging stations for use in 2012 in commercial applications and public places. The devices have a magnetic card reader and a touch screen that improve usability, allowing drivers to charge their parked vehicles.

“This is every place you leave home where you stop for 30 minutes,” Granger said. “It’s a virtually unlimited, untapped market at this point."

But Granger also acknowledged significant challenges — namely a lack of startup investment in Michigan.

“It seems like especially in the state of Michigan, it is a bear to get money,” he said.

--Mobile software development. Jimmy Hsiao, CEO of Ann Arbor-based Logic Solutions, which was founded in 1995, said a mobile version is quickly becoming required for websites.

As the Web developed, most desktop-based software applications have integrated a Web component or migrated entirely online. “In the near future, most software will also have a mobile portion,” Hsiao said.

Although mobile application development has become a significant opportunity for Ann Arbor area companies like Logic Solutions and Mobiata, the challenge is the pace of change in the industry — which Hsiao described as “extremely fast.”

“Mobile has a lot of players,” he said. “Because there are a lot of players, there is no on dominant” entity.

--Solid-state lighting. Michigan can already stake a claim as “a leader in solid-state lighting,” said Tim Slusser, technology development manager for cluster development at the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

That sector includes specialized LED makers like Ann Arbor-based Estrakon Inc., which recently won a six-figure early-stage venture capital investment from the Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund, which is managed by Ann Arbor SPARK. Estrakon is expected to add about 13 jobs in 2012.

Michigan’s existing solid-state lighting industry is an example of an industry that will benefit from the MEDC’s new focus on “economic gardening,” which emphasizes development of existing companies, instead of attraction of outside companies, Slusser said.

“This is something new for economic development in the state of Michigan,” he said.

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



Thu, Feb 2, 2012 : 1:23 p.m.

Right, that's the answer! Let more distilleries make their home in Michigan. We can all drink like they did in Poland to anesthetize ourselves as we watch our money and our freedoms pass away.

C. S. Gass

Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 10:27 a.m.

Look, I know this is an election year, and every rabid, liberal journalist worth his Communist Party membership card is doing his utmost to get Obama re-elected, but really? An article on four make-believe ideas to support a 'comeback' that is non-existant? Come on! You can think of something better than this! None of these ideas will make a dent in the economic hole left by the auto industry. You know, the auto industry, the one that pumped billions into this and other states, that our government paid off NOT to leave, and that is just barely afloat now? That auto industry....

Ron Granger

Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 2:40 p.m.

I think if we all adopt your negative, defeatist, failure attitude, why... We'll all be just fine!

Kara H

Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 1:15 p.m.

We all know what the auto industry was, but what's your point? It's the good American capitalists who've outsourced the jobs, not the "communists." The only way to replace one big industry that's gone away is through lots of smaller more diverse ones. Michigan became a one horse economy, but it doesn't have to stay that way.


Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 7:41 a.m.

Will these start up companies employ the masses like manufacturing did? Can the average person then raise a family and send their kids to college on their earned wages as a result of employment with one of these strat up companies? Unless we find viable replacement jobs for lost manufacturing jobs, all we have done is lowered our standard of living while elevating the standard of living of the country manufacturing the products we used to manufacture.


Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 10:09 a.m.

It will all even out by the time our children have grandchildren.


Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 2:57 a.m.

ever look at the spark job postings? each job title is a foreign job name Ive never heard of befor and they all sound the same in description with big technical words and jargon that make them confusing to the lay person what the job actually entails. too advanced for me, guess im stupid.


Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 10:08 a.m.

That is why Snyder wants to bring more immigrants to Michigan. We have the jobs, but we don't have the people with high tech degrees sticking around. Indians, Japanese, Chinese, and Arabs have the education for the highly specialized jobs that are available.


Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 2:14 a.m.

Trillions of dollars are going to be spent on infrastructure renewal, pipes, wires, roads, trains, etc. No state is focused on this as a concentration. It needs strong manufacturing to make the pieces and strong engineering to create better pipes, wires, roadbeds, etc. Michigan would be better off doing this than any of the others. This is a global export market.

Ron Granger

Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 2:34 p.m.

"This is a global export market." Which means it is a "lowest global bidder" market. Have you priced importing products from China?


Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 1:20 a.m.

The Johnny Walker sign in the photo reminds me that we need more distilleries in the state. We've got so many raw products that could benefit from a little bit of distillation - cherries, sugar beets, potatoes, corn, etc.

Ron Granger

Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 2:33 p.m.

I like the thought, but a bunch a people sittin' around gettin' tanked ain't gonna do much good for the economy. And when those types of business scale up, it tends to use economies of scale to reduce the amount of labor required. But if yer fixin to cook up a batch, gimme a call.


Wed, Feb 1, 2012 : 3:40 a.m.

Too true, bro!