Driving Smart Economic Growth in Service of Prosperity for All
Over the past six months, the Ann Arbor SPARK board of directors engaged in an update of the organization’s strategic plan. This — the third iteration for the organization — is the product of deep conversations among the board informed by research and thinking about a dramatically changed economic landscape compared to when the previous version was prepared in 2017. These conversations were further informed through input from our stakeholders in the public, private, and academic sectors.
It is clear that the world is undergoing a sea change in how people work, where they live, and what they value. The pandemic has exacerbated economic inequities and made progress on environmental sustainability more difficult.
A strategy of smart growth in service of prosperity for all will respond to these challenges and create opportunities that will benefit our region. To deliver on this shared purpose with a strong commitment to equity and environmental stewardship, Ann Arbor SPARK will focus its efforts in the next three years on the four strategic directions below that have the potential to deliver value, mitigate risks, and are strengths of the organization.
The pursuit of economic growth through working with startups and early-stage tech companies represents the best investment of all of SPARK’s levers of change. Helping these small companies can pay exponential dividends and influence both equity and talent attraction.
- The continuation of SPARK’s leadership through existing programs and facilities, and in collaboration with the LDFA, the University of Michigan, and partner organizations to work towards capturing 100% of the potential startup and early-stage company growth.
- Working with the Ann Arbor region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem to identify “gaps” in the ecosystem and methods to fill those gaps either directly by SPARK or in concert with partner organizations.
- Connecting our growing companies to venture capital resources.
- Identify, educate, and support angel investment to provide important resources for startups with an emphasis on support for women and minority-led enterprises.
- Continuing our efforts to promote diversity, equality, and inclusion in our engagement with early-stage companies.
Retaining and growing our existing companies and attracting new ones to locate here in core industry sectors such as mobility, cybersecurity, information, life science and financial technologies will make our economy more resilient and well positioned in the reshuffling of supply chains by the pandemic and global tensions. The board placed special emphasis on our opportunities in environmental sustainability and our success as a destination for research and development facilities across all sectors.
- Attracting new companies that “fit” our region and grow those already here, advancing our existing and emerging clusters, …… and the opportunities for existing talent within the community and attracting new talent here.
- Taking advantage of the University of Michigan’s international reputation and brand, …… globally sourced faculty and student population, …… and our community’s racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity to maximize our opportunities for investment nationally and from overseas.
- Continuing our targeted growth and retention calling program to the largest employers to solidify their presence in our region.
- Advocating for and supporting process improvement measures in municipal planning and approvals to create certainty in policy implementation and prompt processing.
- Identifying and supporting the preparation of sites for business expansion and location opportunities.
This is an area that has become more and more critical as the key differentiator between economies and an important part of our work. SPARK can play an important role with academic and other workforce responsible organizations in maximizing the retention, development, and attraction of a talented workforce, with an emphasis on experienced entrepreneurial management, through communicating the quality of career opportunities and of our community.
- The continued implementation of MI STEM Forward intern program as both a retention and attraction initiative.
- Continuing to expand a2Tech360 as a showcase of our high-tech companies and the career opportunities they represent.
- Convening and, where appropriate, leading broad community discussions with the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, Washtenaw Community College, and other partner organizations with the private sector to answer key questions on what kind of talent is needed, where there are gaps, and how to address our liabilities and build on our strengths.
Our board of directors believes that SPARK is uniquely positioned as connective tissue between our leading academic institutions, the private sector, and local and state government. Collaboration across our core region and southeast Michigan has never been more important. There is a myriad of issues affecting the region that must be addressed to achieve the vision of smart economic growth in the service of all.
These issues include but are not limited to:
- Expanded economic development efforts in eastern Washtenaw County.
- A cohesive local government planning and entitlement process.
- Environmental sustainability and resilience.
- Infrastructure planning and investment to create sites for economic development opportunities.
- Placemaking — building on the quality we already have including the arts, to continue to be one of the best places to live and work in the nation.
- Broad efforts to encourage diversity, equity, and inclusion across all dimensions of our community.