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