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Posted on Wed, Jan 9, 2013 : 6:41 p.m.

Michigan's business future depends on strengthening entrepreneurial foundation

By Guest Column

Capitalizing on its local assets, Ann Arbor is modeling one path to economic growth and will likely enjoy more success as statewide reforms of the past two years begin to take root.

As we optimistically begin 2013, we stress the importance of maintaining the positive, pro-innovation progress of the past few years. Regions and states that successfully have improved their economies have employed a range of strategies over time, rather than depending on a single “magic bullet.” Along with business-friendly tax policies, they’ve also embraced support for education, infrastructure improvement, protection of natural resources and - most importantly - fostering a culture that celebrates risk-taking and innovation.

Rob Fowler photo.JPG

Rob Fowler, President/CEO of Small Business Association of Michigan

In the early 20th century, Michigan was the Silicon Valley of its era. Hundreds of entrepreneurs and innovators invented the automobile industry. Over the long term, however, that success led to cultural expectations that huge companies would continue to employ generations of well-paid - but not entrepreneurial - people. That paternalistic legacy is long gone, but the mind-set behind it remains. The unsuccessful electoral counterattacks in the fall 2012 elections against the improvements in our business environment illustrate that economic backsliding is a real danger.

Making Michigan entrepreneur-friendly is different from making it friendly to business and keeping it that way. Pro-business tax, regulatory and fiscal policies are important but not sufficient for success in entrepreneurship. Our challenge now is to keep the entrepreneurial momentum of the past two years going to reshape Michigan’s business climate and investment image.

Gov. Rick Snyder and legislative leaders deserve great credit for embracing SBAM’s concept of “economic gardening” - the idea that cultivating and nourishing our own home-grown business operations is the most productive economic development strategy. Economic gardening depends not just on business-friendly rules and regulations, but on a whole range of cultural and educational attributes as well.


Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder speaks while attending his first Entrepreneurs Engage UnConference hosted by the University of Michgian TechTransfer and the Michigan Venture Capital Association at the North Campus Research Complex.

Angela Cesere |

Michigan and several key regions have made progress. Three examples are pertinent and illustrate the different routes to success:

1. Downtown Detroit is a thriving hotbed of small business growth. A gritty urban image coupled with small business support programs and the catalyst of big business real estate investment is leading to a surge of entrepreneurship.

2. Traverse City’s beautiful landscape and access to the Great Lakes is encouraging entrepreneurs to come for the climate but stay for the business growth opportunities.

3. Ann Arbor is a model ecosystem of entrepreneurship flowing out of and being supported by a world-class research university.

The common factor that links these regions together is that communities — cities, counties, towns and townships — are working together to celebrate and support a culture of entrepreneurship.

Our future lies in building on the accomplishments of the past two years and strengthening our entrepreneurial foundation. I would welcome a conversation with our unions to explore their role in promoting entrepreneurship and job growth. We need to enhance collaborative opportunities among state/local governments, communities like Ann Arbor that are pioneering “sense of place,” our educational institutions and our rapidly-growing private sector investment community.

Rob Fowler is the President and CEO of Small Business Association of Michigan.



Thu, Jan 10, 2013 : 11:25 a.m.

Posting an article like this in the Ozonian is just sheeple baiting ...why bother....


Thu, Jan 10, 2013 : 2:58 a.m.

Hey Rob, Your ideas and rhetoric went out in the 80's much like your mustache. Small business owners are not our saviors. They are one piece of the puzzle; that should get no more special interest than any other piece of the puzzle . Please know your role and settle down. Ann Arbors recession proof economy is a result of one thing: the UM. It isn't Barracuda Networks getting sweetheart deals from the City to move downtown.


Thu, Jan 10, 2013 : 2:57 a.m.

Talk about a voice for the .1%. "Prevent economic backsliding" must be the latest code word for accelerating the wealth gap. The opinion stretches believability beyond recognition when it says that "Along with business-friendly tax policies, they've also embraced support for education, infrastructure improvement, protection of natural resources" This is the greatest load of horse hockey I've seen in this pro-slick horse produce yet. When you start by robbing the K-12 education fund of $700+ million to prevent economic backsliding in the portfolios of a very few of the wealthiest among us you'll pardon me if I question your support for education. And how in heavens name has this republicon government protected natural resources other than to put a fracking well in everyone's backyard? I guess, like Slick, Mr. Fowler believes we really are all brainless.


Thu, Jan 10, 2013 : 1:13 a.m.

Let's see, what are young entrepreneurs looking for? Education for their children or low property taxes? Good teachers are fleeing Michigan like it is a sinking ship. Gov Rick and his merry men increased property tax by "redefining" earnings. What are older entrepreneurs looking for? Low taxes on retirement income. Snyder has begun taxing pensions and 401K income. Sayonara Michigan, nice work Rick.


Thu, Jan 10, 2013 : 12:39 a.m.

Invention is the mother of necessity. Michigan is rich in entrepreneurs and when Michigan de-globalizes their need will once again succeed in returning the State to its former functional stature. Oppressive capital and government structure in concert with foreign interference in resource supply and job trade opportunity make for a dull marketplace for innovation. Allowing for more local empowerment over local solutions will provide the necessity mother. Entrepreneurs are human and thus physically bound to their geographic "homeland". Given local resources, security, and opportunity the sum of their creative home parts will then join to fill their home State as a whole. Energy backed dollars in an energy independent Michigan will provide that golden spark for an entrepreneur-run geographic economy..

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Jan 10, 2013 : 12:39 a.m.

"I would welcome a conversation with our unions to explore their role in promoting entrepreneurship and job growth." This would be a very short conversation. Unless Snyder has a laughing fit. I know the left loves to parrot "you didn't build that" to the entrepreneurs amongst us, but half of all jobs are in small business, and someone has to take that risk to get a small business started. Snyder may have had a few bumps along the way, especially when it comes to appeasing the far right, but he is still on course to make as much a positive difference in Michigan's future as anyone since the dawn of the automobile age.