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Posted on Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 9:15 a.m.

New York Times' Tom Friedman cites Ann Arbor as a 21st century economic leader

By Nathan Bomey

Communities with a strong base of intellectual talent and access to extremely high-speed Internet access will be the "job factories" of the 21st century, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman argued in a column.


New York Times columnist Tom Friedman speaks in Ypsilanti in 2008.

File photo |

And one of those communities, Friedman said, is Ann Arbor.

"The best of these ecosystems will be cities and towns that combine a university, an educated populace, a dynamic business community and the fastest broadband connections on earth," Friedman said. "These will be the job factories of the future."

The columnist, author of "The World Is Flat" and several other books on economic trends, cited Ann Arbor, Cambridge, Mass., Silicon Valley, Austin, Texas and Boulder, Colo. as places of economic vitality.

His column comes after state government officials reported Tuesday that Washtenaw County's unemployment rate had fallen to 5.2 percent in November, below the national rate of 8.6 percent and Michigan's rate of 9.8 percent.

Washtenaw — anchored by the University of Michigan, an entrepreneurial technology sector and a growing health care industry — has the lowest unemployment rate among Michigan's 83 counties.

"The critical questions for America today have to be how we deploy more ultra-high-speed networks and applications in university towns to invent more high-value-added services and manufactured goods and how we educate more workers to do these jobs — the only way we can maintain a middle class," Friedman wrote.

Read his full New York Times column here.

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


Left is Right

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 4:31 a.m.

Maybe he's setting up for his new book, "The World Has Spikes."

toothless wonder

Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 6:20 p.m.

Friedman is always a little behind the curve, but makes a decent living by using the gimmick of pulling in the lens too close so as to be alarmist. He is right up there in integrity with Rush , Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck.


Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 8:49 a.m.

I like how people talk about the 21st century as though we're still living in 1999.


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 11:22 p.m.

Disregard anything you hear from Tom '6 months more' Friedman. He's just selling his next book.


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 8:38 p.m.

Tom friedman , whose so full of liberal balony you could sell him by the pound and the new york times..duh...what do you expect....

Wolf's Bane

Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 7:11 p.m.

Columnist Tom Friedman is a genius and his ideas are rock solid and food for thought. Let's hope the Republicans don't screw up Michigan too badly.


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 8:39 p.m. were bought books, you were sent to school. And, for what?


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 8:09 p.m.

That last statement was supposed to wrapped in sarcasm quotes. But this junk forum format erased them and made it look like I agree with the original statement which I'm the polar opposite.


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 8:07 p.m.

You forgot to wrap your statement in quotes Columnist Tom Friedman is a genius and his ideas are rock solid and food for thought. Let's hope the Republicans don't screw up Michigan too badly. There, that's better.


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 6:52 p.m.

One mans Opinion and Opinions are like anal apertures everybody has one and they all stink


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 5:43 p.m.

Tom Friedman was The NY Times Jerusalem correspondent at one point and wrote several books on the Middle East including the award-winning From Beirut to Jerusalem. He has often been critical of U.S. aand Israeli policies.

hut hut

Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 8:57 p.m.

It has to do with the commenters who know nothing about Friedman or Krugman. I bet that this article in the first think they've ever read about Friedman. That and there's a bias against anything the NYT prints among a few people.


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 6:50 p.m.

what does Israel have to do with this?

Superior Twp voter

Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 5:38 p.m.

Huh? What? Tom Friedman says blah blah blah....and so does his leftist buddy Paul Krugman. Oh yea, can't forget Maureen Dowd as well. All three need to relocate to France or Italy where they will be so happy they won't feel compelled to "write." I hope the New Year brings Ann Arbor dot com to not run the New York Times any more... please?


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 5:01 p.m.

His theory - seems a bit thin = "we deploy more ultra-high-speed networks and applications in university towns to invent more high-value-added services and manufactured goods and how we educate more workers to do these jobs " it all sounds so simple dosn't it... except you need Jobs

Left is Right

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 4:26 a.m.

Well, you need stuff that people are willing to pay for. Currently, there's a big gap between academic "curiosity-driven" research and new products that neither universities nor companies have tackled. Things sometimes leak out but by-and-large it's inefficient. High-speed networks will solve this? Maybe they're correlated with solutions.


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 4:55 p.m.

Hey Knotch, does this does sound Marxist? &quot;The historical debate is over. The answer is free-market capitalism.&quot; Thomas Friedman Read more: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 4:49 p.m.

Besides cutting the education budget, Rick and his merry band of pranksters have started taking away the basic freedoms from certain segments of our society, i.e. his anti domestic partner legislation. All the areas of the country that Friedman used as examples are also very diverse ethnically and gender wise. When certain segments of a society shy away from certain areas of the country because of discrimination of any type, creativity suffers and the economy will soon suffer. It is interesting that the big Republican mantra is smaller government will make us more free, but on the other hand, they are the first ones to use legislation to restrict our basic freedoms. Go Figure!!!


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 5:39 p.m.

&quot;very diverse ethnically and gender wise&quot;. Gender wise? Are there areas that have only men or women?


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 5:02 p.m.

Since close to 80% of Washtenaw County's top employers are public sector, where exactly are these creative jobs? Since when are state employees creative?


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 4:29 p.m.

I have too bring everyone down from your High. Tom Friedman has been WRONG on every economic prediction. He believes the communist system works......and should be followed.....He's a freak Marxist. Should fit in well with some of the Marxist professors employed at the university


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 4:06 p.m.

You can have all the great intellectual and knowledge based talent in the world but if you are s clipper ship in the doldrums you aren't going anywhere. &quot;Day after day, day after day, We stuck, nor breath nor motion; As idle as a painted ship Upon a painted ocean.&quot;


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 3:53 p.m.

&quot;...after state government officials reported Tuesday that Washtenaw County's unemployment rate had fallen to 5.2...&quot; What is not mentioned is that at least 77% of the jobs provided by Washtenaw County top 25 employers are public sector (government) jobs. &quot;These will be the job factories of the future.&quot; <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 3:51 p.m.

Where do underemployed and people who have fallen off the rolls show up in unemployment stats? 5.2%?

Ron Granger

Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 7:56 p.m.

Soylent Green is people?

Woman in Ypsilanti

Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 4:22 p.m.

Underemployed people and discouraged workers don't count.


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 3:44 p.m.

The Ann Arbor jobs/careers that will be most in demand: -Artists -Pedestrian safety engineers -Bloggers (preferably sarcastic) who write about city, county, and/or state government -Highly educated and overpaid consultants

Left is Right

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 4:16 a.m.

Didn't you mean to say &quot;pedestrian convenience activists&quot;?


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 3:01 p.m.

Coming from anybody but him.....this would be good news. Give him credit though....he has a keen sense for the obvious...


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 2:57 p.m.

Ann Arbor is hostile to business and is far from the 1Gbps fiber optic Internet feeds being deployed in Asia so we've got work to do.

Left is Right

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 4:14 a.m.

Well, the townships seem fine with businesses and property taxes are lower. Yes, it's sometimes nice to be in the city but as far as businesses that are net exporters from the state (which is the way to bring new money into the state, after all), macht nichts--often better to have lower taxes, free parking, and more space.

hut hut

Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 8:52 p.m.

@MikeyP Stop making things up. Hyperbole doesn't help your argument one bit. You're extrapolating a couple of instances into a personal fact-less diatribe.


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 8:27 p.m.

I've only lived here 20 years but I have yet to see a zoning law or the historical significance of a building stop the umich from razing a forest or tearing down a building that stood in their way.

Ron Granger

Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 7:55 p.m.

&quot;laws that say you have to preserve a burnt out shell of a house vs. letting a successful business tear it down and expand to create more jobs, more tax revenues and more economic success are what make Ann Arbor hostile to business.&quot; It's a thing called a &quot;zoning law&quot;. Most towns have them. The University of Michigan has a great program that teaches another neat thing called &quot;Urban Planning&quot;. Zingermans borders a residential neighborhood and the home had a historic designation. There is a residential neighbor on the other side of the burned house. That neighbor was previously between two residences. Now it borders a rather large business. As a result, their property value has likely decreased. If we allowed businesses to penetrate into residential neighborhoods whenever there was a house fire, we might find the rate of fires increasing. &quot;But we still have 157 parks, lol!&quot; Zingermans would not exist without the unique features that draw people to Ann Arbor. The parks are a huge part of that.


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 6:18 p.m.

That's just it... laws that say you have to preserve a burnt out shell of a house vs. letting a successful business tear it down and expand to create more jobs, more tax revenues and more economic success are what make Ann Arbor hostile to business. Every other city in this state would have moved mountains to help Zingermans expand, Ann Arbor stuck their noses into the air and made them grovel to do so. That may work when it's a business that is already deeply established in town and can't simply say &quot;We'll look elsewhere then&quot;... but what message does that send to companies looking to relocate here? &quot;We're going to make it as difficult as possible for you to succeed, just because we can.&quot; Uh, no thanks, I'll build in Pittsfield or Brighton or Grand Rapids or Warren then. But we still have 157 parks, lol! Surely they drive more economic activity than Zingermans per square foot eh? And people wonder why Ann Arbor has budget problems... even in the People's Republic of Ann Arbor you can't have your cake and eat it too. The laws of economics still apply, there's no magic money fairy who will bestow upon us a budget balancing tax base simply because we're green enough to care. I'm sure there are plenty of businesses who have opted not to relocate here, not to expand here or have left town because of this... there is plenty of vacant retail space in this city after all. Those who insist on setting up ridiculous barriers are going to end up with a rude economic awakening I believe, even if Friedman is right that doesn't guarantee future success here. You still need to intice businesses to town, and I just don't see that happening with the current anti-business culture here.

Ron Granger

Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 6:01 p.m.

@MikeyP: &quot;When even a favored establishment like Zingermans has trouble getting the go ahead you have a problem.&quot; -- They are a business, just like any other. The fact that they sell delicious $16 sandwiches does not convey them any sort of &quot;most favored sandwich&quot; status that obviates the need to comply with the laws that govern our town. You are of course free to lobby the Council to pass a &quot;Zingerman's can do whatever they want&quot; law.


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 5:40 p.m.

No, I think Technojunkie is right. Ann Arbor is hostile to businesses. Just look at the ridiculous hoops Zingermans had to jump through in order to expand (being denied once because a burned out shell of a house they owned and wanted to tear down in order to expand was deemed to be &quot;historic&quot; and thus had to be preserved it its decrepit state?!?), not to mention the barriers Biercamp on State St. had to overcome... you sort of get the feeling that Townies don't really want more economic activity in this city. They want their walled garden of 157 parks, would love to ban cars, drive out all capitalist endeavors and create some sort of hippie utopia. When even a favored establishment like Zingermans has trouble getting the go ahead you have a problem.

hut hut

Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 4:40 p.m.

Businesses are hostile to their own interests. They refuse to reinvest profits in expansion and improvement because it cuts into their bottom line. They're more interested in increasing market share and destroying their competition than they are in improving their products or services. Why should they reinvest and grow when they already make bunches of profits with their current business model?


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 3:31 p.m.

Until the ISPs in this area/country use the ridiculous fees they are charging us for mediocre or substandard broadband speeds to upgrade existing infrastructures to fiber (from the backbone to every household and business) instead of sitting on the profits or buying up other companies, we will sit and watch the world pass us by like we have been doing.


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 2:53 p.m.

But I've been assured by all the Wayne County residents and angry shut-ins who populate this site that Ann Arbor is becoming a third-world hell hole and that we'll all probably be living in underground bunkers by 2015, fending off bloodthirsty socialist hordes. Are you telling me these folks might not be arguing from a position of strength? I refuse to accept that.


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 2:43 p.m.

says him


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 2:28 p.m.

Hey, here is an idea, why don't we gut the education budget of our state! We can always import intellectual labor from other countries, all we need to supply is Michigan trained baristas to keep the new folks happy.

say it plain

Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 12:28 a.m.

Yeah, and Snyder not only could care less about the state of our public schools because after all the people who really care about education have their kids in the small-class-size private schools (if they can afford it that is), but he *also* surprise!surprise! has talked up his plan to import foreign-born talent who won't complain about the schools and the roads because they're used to lower standards for both in their home nations! *Perfect*! He's read Thomas Friedman and knows what to do about it to maximize his VC bottom-line, baby ;-)!


Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 2:48 p.m.

5c, nope. There were no deficits. Snyder created them with his tax cuts for businesses. Schools had funding before he stole it for his tax cuts. Don't make things up.

5c0++ H4d13y

Wed, Jan 4, 2012 : 2:41 p.m.

Here's an idea. Let's run massive deficits and leverage the state into a Greek style melt down! Then we'll borrow more money!