Future for Self-Driving Cars in Michigan

The auto industry is on the verge of revolutionary change with the potential to dramatically reshape the way we interact with vehicles and the future design of our roads and cities (KPMG White Paper on Self Driving Cars). The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) is leading the charge with breakthrough research that will transform the future of mobility. The Connected Vehicle Safety Pilot Program is a scientific research initiative that features real-world implementation of connected vehicle safety technologies, applications, and systems using everyday drivers.

The inclusion of the Ann Arbor region in this study, with real people driving real cars, will accelerate the learning cycles of drivers, thereby driving near term market acceptance and raising the stature of the State of Michigan in the Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Automotive World. The proposed Center for ITS and Autonomous Vehicles will establish Southeast Michigan as the world leader in driving technology and standards through industry and regulatory collaboration.

The State of Michigan needs to leverage UMTRI’s dominant research and development success in this space and “control” industry collaboration, thereby attracting more private sector investment. Creating imminent value to the industry will leverage significant investment from OEMs and technology suppliers which should be captured in the Southeast Michigan region. As a leader in this field, the State of Michigan stands to gain from new private research dollars and a pipeline of federal funding geared towards the ITS industry. A need still remains for building the road testing and simulation infrastructure to spur an entrepreneurial environment around the ITS industry. Construction of a world class test facility at the RACER property, a significant asset straddling Washtenaw and Wayne County, will set Michigan apart from growing competition to capture ITS as an economic development catalyst.

A Public/Private sector partnership has been formed to redevelop the RACER site into a connected vehicle test center. Detroit based Walbridge, Ann Arbor SPARK, The Center for Automotive Research, Ypsilanti Township, The Detroit Aerotropolis, RACER Trust, and Willow Run Airport (Detroit Metro Airport Authority) are pooling their assets together to assist in the largest redevelopment project ever, taking the 5 million square foot Former GM Powertrain facility (the plant was owned by Ford as well and was at one point the B-24 Bomber plant) and turning into a multi-faceted connected and autonomous test center, complete with leasable flex/R&D space, garages, incubator, “office hoteling” space, and a testing environment specifically designed to test variable driving conditions that can improve connected vehicle technology. There will be no site as comprehensive anywhere in the world. And it’s in the best location, Southeast Michigan.

Economic developers are in key positions to make projects like this happen. We are a trusted third party to business, academia, and government. No matter what region, there are valuable assets to take advantage of. Our ability To convene stakeholders representing those assets is exactly what makes our work so important to the economic health of our community.

We should constantly challenge ourselves to be leaders, listen to our stakeholders, and creatively connect the disparate dots in our economic regions making opportunities that can create jobs and investment.

Authored by: Luke Bonner, Vice President of Business Development, Ann Arbor SPARK. Luke serves as a Member at Large on MEDA’s Board of Directors


What are the New Faces of Economic Development?

The theme for MEDA’s 2013 Annual Meeting, to be held in Grand Rapids, will be The New Face of Economic Development. I hope you agree that this is an intriguing title as it wasn’t made lightly when the committee discussed it many months ago. The committee concluded that so much has changed in the Great Lakes State, that this was the logical title and theme for the meeting. As we come out of the economic slump, I feel much has changed in the realm of economic development and it is important to address those changes within our profession while continuing to investigate new approaches to economic development. Let me provide you a sneak preview of the types of sessions which make up our theme this year. We will discuss what the role of the economic developer is and how it has changed – what is expected of them and how have the resources been changed; a session will include a team of international speakers who will cover the global outreach that we face for business attraction; discussions will also cover crowd funding and regionalism.

Change in economic development seems to continue almost on a daily basis, but for starters, I do believe Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) President Michael Finney have offered a refreshing change on the approach to business attraction and retention. Whether you are a fan or not, the incentive structure has been altered and I don’t know that I have seen much fall out from this change in direction. Secondly, regional partnership has been embraced by utilizing strengths from several of our private economic development agencies across the state. Organizations such as Detroit Regional Chamber, The Right Place, and Southwest Michigan First are just a few strong organizations that are helping assist the MEDC with this regional “touch” by providing their strong areas to the overall Pure Michigan efforts.

Next are the Young Professionals, a relatively new group within MEDA that will help identify, mention and education up and coming economic development professionals in providing them the network and tools that will help them grow in their respective roles. A kickoff reception will be held at the Annual Meeting and if you are 40 and under, you are welcome to attend.

Register today for the MEDA Annual Meeting and I look forward to seeing you at the Amway Grand on August 21st!

Recently I transitioned into the new position of President/CEO for the Troy Chamber of Commerce from being the Economic Development Director for the City of Novi for the past six years. I was fortunate to have worked with some fine people and businesses in Novi and now as I am in Troy, my past background and experience will hopefully benefit the Troy Chamber and business community. Chambers can be vital in economic development by helping educate businesses on how to network effectively and create relationships that are mutually beneficial. They can also assist in being an arm to their marketing department. Helping get the word out there about how strong of a company they are so that the bottom line is positively affected.

Finally, speaking of a new face for economic development, the Troy Transit Center is currently under construction with a planned completion and opening in September. This will be a 2,400 square foot facility equipped with restrooms, commercial concessions, pedestrian bridge and over a hundred parking spots. The Troy Chamber was an advocate for this project and felt that it can be an added boost for local economic growth. Amtrack and SMART would utilize this center and in many cases can be a great welcome for patrons to our city.

Authored by: Ara Topouzian, President/CEO of Troy Chamber of Commerce. Ara serves as Vice President of MEDA.

Growing the Impact Economy: Social Innovation is Economic Development

Social innovations have become more prominent today because of ongoing research, sustainability practices, open source technology and design.  There is growing interest with the public policy makers and they are now supporting social innovations.  There is new thinking about innovation in public services and governments and the need of a deep social change.  Innovative ideas and solutions are being listened to and supported in a bid to create social change with innovation.  Social innovations are being used worldwide and social enterprises are sprouting.  People are beginning to realize the importance of social and responsible investment and innovative design to solve major problems.

In West Michigan, the most visible example of this social innovation is at Cascade Engineering.  Fred Keller, speaking at the TEDx Grand Rapids conference at the Civic Theatre in, told the crowd “business has the opportunity to change the world for the better.”  Cascade Engineering is a nationally recognized proponent of sustainable business practices that emphasize the key role business can play in building financial, social and environmental capital.  They have a very important economic and social impact on our regional economy.

There is a growing interest in social entrepreneurship and businesses are focusing more on innovation in their services.  There are new methods of innovation being inspired by the open source field and collaborative approaches are becoming more popular.

Social innovations are exploding all over the globe with new inventions and non-profit organizations being created for change. These social enterprises are the wave of the future, our future on this planet. New ventures are sprouting up and innovations are enhancing the capacity of the society to act.

You can be a part of this innovation and create sustainable changes that will impact the future of our planet in a positive way.  Change is imminent and the rise of social innovation is something we should all be a part of in the future.  Create opportunities that allow for-benefit economic development, remove the barriers faced by these enterprises, and create a supportive ecosystem for them in your region.

Authored by Kara Wood, Economic Development Director, City of Grand Rapids

Wood serves as a Secretary on the Michigan Economic Developers Association Board of Directors.

Talent Development for Economic Developers

As Michigan’s robust economic recovery continues to set the pace for the nation, our client companies are all bringing their talent issues forward.  The challenge is so great that Governor Rick Snyder’s recent Economic Summit quickly turned into a talent development discussion.  Across Michigan economic development organizations and their partners are working tirelessly to address this barrier to growth.  All of this attention focused on the talent needs of our clients begs the question:  what are we doing to grow the talent pool within the economic development profession?

Being an economic developer is an extraordinarily rewarding career opportunity.  We have the ability to migrate between private and public sector domains, impacting corporate decisions as well as public policy.  We can draw energy from the upstart entrepreneurs we assist.  We are leaders in our community, helping to shape the vision of our region and towns for generations to come.  And we can drive by projects and take great pride in knowing we had an impact on the lives of those people who parked their cars in that company lot that day.

All the research shows that the younger generation today is seeking out significance.  They want to belong to a team that is making an impact.  Beyond making widgets or drafting code, the next generation wants to feel a part of something that is changing the world.  Why do you think Google encourages staffers to take time off to volunteer?  The economic development profession offers significance.  This is incredibly rewarding work.  So how can we attract and retain more of the best and brightest to work alongside us?  Here are some of my experiences that may prove useful to you:

  • Internships:  My career started as an intern at Greater Gratiot Development, Inc.  In a ‘pay it forward’ kind of way, I have run an internship program at Lakeshore Advantage.  Though the interns have not stuck within economic development, they have made a strong contribution to the success of our organization.  We just interviewed 4 outstanding candidates for this summer and will be adding two to the team—a very cost effective way to bring new talent and new ideas into the organization.
  • Mentorship:  My career has been filled with great mentors.  At each stop, people have generously given of their time and talent to help me develop my career.  Too many to list.  Who are you mentoring today?  MEDA has launched a new Young Professionals Group that is seeking out mentors—sign up with Cassandra today!
  • Flexibility:  Our team at Lakeshore Advantage is outstanding.  We have been able to hire great talent, largely out of industry.  To be honest, our compensation package is average.  We make up for this by offering a flexible work environment.
  • Leadership:  Our team is also active in the community, taking leadership roles on a variety of initiatives.  This reinforces their importance to the team and the community, gives them a development opportunity and helps expand their network.  All of this is beneficial to the organization too!
  • Training:  We can all utilize MEDA even more than we already do.  As Chair of MEDA’s Education Committee, I am always open to new ideas for programming.  We have two great upcoming programs to put on your calendar (and bring someone from your staff!):  the Toolbox program on May 30th is a great look into the details of the myriad of programs we all utilize; in November, we are going to ask each of you to put yourselves in the shoes of your client—we will be offering manufacturing-type training, including lean, Six Sigma and corporate innovation training.  Let’s learn what our clients are learning.

Economic development is highly rewarding work.  We can drive through our communities and see the impact we make.  Economic development is a natural for anyone seeking significance in their career.  This list above is just a start.  In the comments below, add your own best practice to the list.  What are you doing within your organization to attract and retain the best in the economic development profession?

Authored by Randy Thelen, President, Lakeshore Advantage Corporation

Thelen serves as a Treasurer on the Michigan Economic Developers Association Board of Directors.

Saving Utility Infrastructure Costs for Client Companies

DTE Energy and Consumers Energy are long time MEDA members and contributors to Michigan’s economy.  Now we are taking it to a whole new level; we aren’t your grandfather’s utility companies any more!

Utility Infrastructure Costs

DTE Energy and Consumers Energy are offering an improved formula for cost sharing to build electric infrastructure for new or expanding businesses that are large energy users.  This is intended to lower the cost of electric infrastructure and stimulate our state’s economy.  The new formula applies to businesses with 1,000 kilowatts (kW) or greater of electric demand, that are willing to enter into service provider contracts with the utilities.

Pure Michigan Business Connect

The utilities committed early on to spend an additional $750 million on Michigan made goods and services.  They’re exceeding that goal and as a result, creating thousands of jobs in our state.


We need to hear from you at the beginning of your projects so that we assist with site selection, provide infrastructure maps, calculate rate options and offer energy efficiency options.

To make it easy to contact us, we’ve established new communication channels.  In addition to the team members listed on our websites, we’ve established central mailboxes and toll free numbers.

1.800. 331-9366


Contact us, we look forward to working with you to energize Michigan!

Authored By: Peggy Black, Principal Account Manger, DTE Energy

Black serves as a Member at Large on the Michigan Economic Developers Association Board of Directors. She was Vice President and President in 2011 and President in 2012.

Riding Michigan’s Wave of Regional Partnerships

Regional partnerships in Michigan are gaining ground with enthusiastic response from the businesses, municipalities, and citizens of our communities. MEDC, Prima Civitas Foundation, federal departments, and charitable foundations have encouraged and supported regional planning and project implementation. Many such initiatives are underway across the state. These efforts deserve continued support based on their accomplishments to date and future potential.

The example that I know best is the I-69 International Trade Corridor Partnership (MEDC Region 8) which has been motivated by the opportunity for new regional marketing and business development incentives. Achievements to date include Next Michigan incentive support for Pinnacle FoodsImlay City expansion project, over 230 attendees at last year’s Regional Summit, positive coverage of the region’s new Exporter of the Year Awards, CS Mott Foundation support for industry cluster efforts, and MEDC funding for regional marketing and outreach.

Area businesses are responding positively, as evidenced by a recent experience had by Justin Horvath, CEO of Shiawassee Economic Development Partnership. A member of the four-county I-69 Corridor partnership that includes Shiawassee, Genesee, Lapeer, and St. Clair Counties, Horvath found himself at a restaurant drive-through in his community when the manager peeked out and said, “We really like the I-69 Corridor work you guys are doing. Keep up the good work.” Horvath explains that the manager had not attended meetings and had not been approached personally about the regional effort, rather was reacting to news articles and corridor marketing that he had seen in the community.

Other firms in the area have expressed similar enthusiasm, many anticipating new business opportunities as a result of the regional efforts. Northgate, a Flint-area company formerly known as Security Packaging reported that the selection of their new corporate name was influenced by regional I-69 Corridor efforts that position the area as “Michigan’s Bluewater Gateway.”

Municipal support is strong as Shiawassee County Administrator Margaret McAvoy recently referred to the I-69 Corridor as a “Ribbon of Hope,” pointing to the progress to date of the I-69 Corridor’s 35-member Next Michigan Development Corporation that she chairs as well as future plans for collaboration along what MDOT has declared a Corridor of International Significance.

In terms of external reaction, Paul Brake, City Manager of Grand Blanc and Horvath made a presentation to over 150 US economic developers and site consultants at the IEDC Leadership Summit in Orlando in January regarding the I-69 International Trade Corridor collaboration. Brake reports that attendees were very interested and envious of the new funding and incentive programs that Michigan regional partnerships have been able to access.

The I-69 Corridor partnership has received strong support from Prima Civitas Foundation. Former Lansing Mayor David Hollister and legal counsel Jim Smiertka have played significant roles. Their leadership, advice, and facilitation have resulted in a growing level of collaboration and expedient action. The NMDC acted in February to approve municipal applications for Next Michigan Renaissance Zone districts for eligible multi-modal businesses with expansion plans. Based on the great success of Lansing’s “Keep GM” campaign, Hollister formed PCF in 2006 and dedicated the organization to the support of regional efforts such as this.

The greatest lessons from this effort are: focus on achieving measurable results, find points of mutual interest, and create a structure that allows for broad-based participation.

The I-69 Corridor partnership is just one of a number of successful regional projects across the state. MEDA plans to feature some of them at this year’s annual meeting in August. In the meantime, please use our MEDA Facebook and LinkedIn pages to tell us about your innovative partnerships, progress to date, and opportunities that can be shared among our members.

Authored By: Janice Karcher, Vice President-Economic Development, Genesee Regional Chamber of Commerce

Karcher serves as President of the Michigan Economic Developers Association Board of Directors and represents the I-69 International Trade Corridor Partnership (Region 8) on the MEDC’s Collaborative Development Council. The Genesee Regional Chamber proudly provides administrative and fiscal support for the I-69 Corridor Partnership and the I-69 International Trade Corridor Next Michigan Development Corporation.