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Posted on Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 11:02 a.m.

If the people are here, the companies will come, Ann Arbor area business leaders say

By Nathan Bomey

If the people are here, the companies will stay here.

That was the consensus among economic development and business leaders gathered this morning at the University of Michigan for the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute's conference on clean energy manufacturing.

Business leaders are discussing ways to boost Michigan's clean tech product makers.

Ken Nisbet, executive director of U-M's Technology Transfer Office, said investment capital is important, but companies gravitate toward regions that are populated with talented people.

"I actually think that all economic development is talent-driven or should be talent-driven," Nisbet said.

Paul Krutko, the new CEO of economic development Ann Arbor SPARK, said talented young professionals are attracted to regions with good "quality of life," strong "community development" and a culture of "embracing diversity."

Krutko, who started in his new role Monday, cited research showing that 65 percent of "graduates in the innovative, technical space we’re talking about now ... choose where to live first as opposed to where to work first."

He added: "One of the things we have to recognize is the talent is everywhere. Larry Page is from here. If the right nurturing environment had been in place, maybe Google would have started here."

Tom Lyon, director of U-M's Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise, said a string of startup successes breeds a pool of talent that can drive future momentum. People leave their first startup and go on to the next one, generating an evergreen cycle of entrepreneurial success.

"The way Silicon Valley started up really was by having a couple of big successes," Lyon said.

Michael Finney, CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., said the MEDC's MichAGAIN program is a key opportunity to attract more talent. In that program, officials are visiting other major cities throughout the country, such as Boston, to try to convince people with Michigan connections to return to the state, invest and hire workers.

"We are doing things for folks that have completed their education and are knowledge workers to expose them to the opportunities we have in our urban cores," Finney said.

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



Sat, Apr 23, 2011 : 10:17 p.m.

I believe the challenge that Mr. Krutko is going to find is that he's signed on to market what is fundamentally a college town that is, as much as it tries to deny it, housed within a region (Detroit metro) that arguably has the most challenged brand of any American metro area of any size. The 30-somethings who are looking to buy a house, start a family etc. typically put down roots where there is a diversity of employment opportunities in their chosen field, not just the particular job for which they are relocating (sometimes it doesn't work out). On that metric Ann Arbor/metro Detroit are still sorely challenged outside the one obvious and may be one or two nascent industry sectors. Agree with Alan Goldsmith -- we deserve to know the full story behind Mr. Krutko's departure from San Jose -- he and his organization are primarily funded with our tax dollars, not private money!!!


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 10:35 p.m.

Why wasn't Rick Snyder there to give the commencement speach?


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 5:03 p.m.

I want some of whatever kool-aid is being served at this wishful-thinking fest. People vote with their feet, and in case you guys hadn't noticed, they are voting in large numbers for other places. Most young professionals will be the first to go, and won't return unless Michigan starts giving away money, in large amounts. Most retirees don't want winters like the one still lingering, for 6 months each year, so forget about large numbers of them. Michigan will continue to putter along, dribbling population along the way, like a car with a leaky engine. A few companies will come and go, from time to time, but the glory days are over.


Sat, Apr 23, 2011 : 2:05 a.m.

Also, the weather in those other places may not be any better, but the job market probably is... nobody moves to NYC or Chicago for the weather, but they do move to various up and coming places in a broad crescent stretching from the SE to the SW to the NW US for that, and other reasons.


Sat, Apr 23, 2011 : 1:58 a.m.

Not sure the whole "married w/ children" gig will be an easy sale in the coming years, as the quality of the public schools decline, along with the roads and everything else supported by declining tax revenues, and population. The "family" demographic is about the only one that has really worked for A2 over the past few decades - like you said. Too confining and boring for most single yuppies, but early-to-bed-and-to-rise suits the 8A-5P family-trackers just fine.

Brian M.

Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 6:50 p.m.

The weather does suck for six months out of the year but we underrate how great the other six months of weather are. It's not like the weather in NYC, Chicago, or Boston is any better. The problem is the lack of an exciting urban area and the lack of exciting jobs for young people. However, Ann Arbor has a lot to offer someone thinking about starting a family.

Wolf's Bane

Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 4:43 p.m.

This is a hilarious article; it's all hyperbole and speculation by academics. The very notion that because we have smart people in Michigan means that we'll attract jobs is a notion that is rooted in fantasy and goes against everything we have ever read in our history books. For example, does anyone remember the mass exodus of Michigan workers to Texas in the 80s? How about the migration of former slaves to the north around the time of industrial revolution post-civil war era? How about mass migration during the great depression? Did I get your attention?

Brian M.

Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 4:35 p.m.

I think Finney's point makes the most sense. The University graduates so many talented kids who go do great things outside the state, usually in one of New York, Boston, Chicago, or the various California cities. You're going to have a hard time convincing kids to stay here and not expand their horizons when so many of their peers are doing so. However, you might be able to convince them to come back when they're ready to start thinking about a family. If you have those people as leaders with entry level jobs for kids out of school, that will help build successful business cycle. As it stands the vast majority of the talent the school graduates flees the state and doesn't come back.

David Briegel

Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 4:25 p.m.

TeaPublican business philosophy? A "trickle down" Field of Dreams!


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 4:24 p.m.

I guess, this is like looking at a glass as half full or half empty! The companies will come here because of the talent or the talent will will go to the jobs. Your choice, I hope yo are right!

Alan Goldsmith

Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 4:13 p.m.

So no follow up on the new SPARK leader and the issues of why he left his old job? That's fallen by the wayside? "Paul Krutko, the new CEO of economic development Ann Arbor SPARK, said talented young professionals are attracted to regions with good "quality of life," strong "community development" and a culture of "embracing diversity."" Quality of life? Roads falling apart, cuts in education, a gay bashing Republican Party running the state and all sorts of 'quality of life' stuff....


Sat, Apr 23, 2011 : 8:50 a.m.

DonBee.... Are you kidding me over here? when the Tax codes were written people understood that when one masses a large amount of money its almost impossible not to grow that money into a dynasty. Thats why we have this sliding tax scale. I'm so SICK to death of this perpetual misleading BS that the right spews out regarding their precious glutinous pocketbooks that i could scream. And the real facts here is that corporate America's income has outpaced inflation by leaps and bounds in the last 30 years while middle America has been stomped into a mud hole. Every economic recover in this nations history has been a direct result of Public works projects. Simple facts that the right always calls socialism.

David Briegel

Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 8:18 p.m.

Well Don, nobody anywhere in America is taxed at a "punitive rate" any longer.. Even the majority of TeaPublicans now believe the wealthy aren't taxed enough already! That dog ain't huntin' any longer. We are living in that "trickle down" Field of Dreams!


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 7:45 p.m.

Don't forget Democrats bashing the folks with money. If I was young, talented and wanted to start the next Google, I would not want to be in a place where someone want to tax what I might become at a punitive rate.

Top Cat

Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 3:21 p.m.

Since when is a collection of academics "business leaders" ?


Fri, Apr 22, 2011 : 3:16 p.m.

What businesses have these guys begun and succeeded at? I must have missed that part.