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Posted on Sun, Sep 13, 2009 : 5:50 a.m.

Menlo Innovations CEO Rich Sheridan: Rail investments critical to business

By Nathan Bomey

Rich Sheridan, founder and CEO of Ann Arbor-based customized software firm Menlo Innovations, regularly travels back and forth to Chicago by Amtrak train as he seeks potential business deals there.

“I’m trying to push my business to Chicago,” he said. “I’m trying to pull some money from Chicago to Ann Arbor.”

But driving to Chicago is a nightmare - and taking the plane presents issues with security lines, parking, potential delays and travel time to and from the airport.

“I could do more if I were doing business in Chicago, but it takes me five hours to get to Chicago,” he said.


Enter high-speed rail. For Sheridan, it’s an obvious piece of the solution to a transit debate that has paralyzed the region for years.

The Michigan Department of Transportation is filing a set of applications for $800 million in high-speed rail funding from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Congress allocated $8 billion in grants for high-speed rail and intercity rail projects.

Michigan hopes to establish a high-speed rail line along Amtrak’s existing Wolverine Line from Detroit to Ann Arbor to Chicago. It could eventually reduce the travel time from Ann Arbor to Chicago to as low as two hours, although the initial goal is to get it down to four.

That opens a world of possibilities for Sheridan, whose eight-year-old, 50-person firm is projecting a record year of revenues.

But high-speed rail is just a piece of the future transportation puzzle.

Sheridan is on the front lines of the high-stakes competition for young talent in the software field. Young software engineers, considering where they want to work, often pick city before company.

That's why Sheridan believes Ann Arbor needs commuter rail, as well. He is encouraged to see the University of Michigan and the city of Ann Arbor collaborating on a $541,717 effort to deliver a conceptual plan for a new transportation center on Fuller Road. It would be a key piece to an intercity rail project costing perhaps $50 million to $60 million.

Improving the region’s transit infrastructure is critical to attracting talent workers, Sheridan said.

“They’re going to places that have great transit systems,” Sheridan said.

Charlotte, N.C. Portland, Ore. New York. San Francisco. Chicago alone steals 11 percent of Michigan's top college graduates, according to Ann Arbor-based nonpartisan think tank Michigan Future Inc.

Skeptics of major transit projects understandably cite the significant price tag associated with rail investment. But Sheridan argues that it’s worth it.

Intangibles count, too. On the train to Chicago, Sheridan can check his e-mail, make calls and do business like he’s at his downtown Ann Arbor office.

“If I drive, total dead time. If I fly, nearly total dead time,” Sheridan said. “I can actually do work on a train. If I get a chance to answer five more e-mails on my commute, that’s huge for me. That’s amazing.”

Transit isn’t just about quality of life; it’s about economic development and talent attraction, he said.

“You should be able to show this to a kindergartner and it makes sense to them,” he said.

(Photo by Robert Ramey: Rich Sheridan, CEO of Menlo Innovations, is pictured at his downtown Ann Arbor office.)

Contact’s Nathan Bomey at or (734) 623-2587 or follow him on Twitter.



Sun, Sep 13, 2009 : 10:02 p.m.

As someone who has traveled alot to Chicago since last year, I would gladly welcome a FAST train from AA to Chi-town! The Amtrack is slow, uncomfortable and feels like I am riding in a third world train car! I was invloved with that debacle back in December '08 when the train could not leave Chicago for several reasons. That felt like we were held captive like the airline passengers in recent news. So PLEASE make this FAST train happen!


Sun, Sep 13, 2009 : 9:53 p.m.

This seems like such a no-brainer, I know a lot of people that commute to Chicago on a regular basis. This would be such a boon for Ann Arbor, it could become a bedroom community for Chicago.