Copyright 2024 SPARK

Economic development in Michigan should take a page from the playbook of the ever-evolving software industry. Its “open source” philosophy – the source code that drives development should be open and available to all – is a model that can propel Michigan’s success in growing, retaining, and attracting business.

SPARK President & CEO
Michael Finney, SPARK President & CEO

Ann Arbor SPARK has taken steps to pilot this approach to economic development by designing initiatives and committing resources that are meant to be openly available and shared statewide. These resources include business incubation, talent enhancement, pre-seed funding, and cross-region assistance with development projects. By sharing with and learning from others, Michigan wins.
Instead of viewing other communities within Michigan as competition for business location and expansion, we view the world as the primary threat to our economic prosperity…the true competition. In today’s global market, where companies can offshore business and operations, and business corridors like Boston, San Francisco, and Austin Texas are thriving, transformational thinking in economic development is a necessity.
There are several economic programs that are “open source” and currently delivering jobs, talent and other resources to Michigan:

  • Michigan’s SmartZone network has provided the infrastructure needed to attract, retain and grow business.
  • The Michigan Life Science and Innovation Center is a state-of -the-art wetlab incubator designed to support life science start-up companies from through SE Michigan.  This project is a collaborative effort among MEDC, Wayne County Economic Development, Esperance Family Foundation, New Economy Initiative of SE Michigan and Ann Arbor SPARK’s Foundation.
  • The Michigan Pre-Seed Fund Capital Fund, a collaborative effort among Michigan’s SmartZone network, has provided nearly $5 million in funding to 30 emerging technology businesses.
  • The Michigan Innovation Equipment Depot, a collaborative effort among Michigan’s SmartZones, Ann Arbor SPARK, MEDC, MichBio and Pfizer, has provided nearly $6 million in high-value laboratory equipment and supplies to emerging life sciences companies across the state.
  • The Economic Development Coalition of Southeast Michigan whose members include economic development organizations located SE Michigan is working with local, state, and federal government to secure necessary funding to support activities of the six business accelerators within Southeast Michigan.

Several “open source” Ann Arbor region programs are yielding

results and hold potential as a model for other communities in the state. With the decline in manufacturing and loss of Pfizer jobs in the Ann Arbor region, talent initiatives have been a cornerstone of economic development efforts. Programs like Hot Shots, that connects employees and employers in a fun “happy hour” format, or Mingle & Match, a sort of “speed-dating” for start-ups and potential employees, have been highly effective in supporting the retention of talent in our region and placing high-value knowledge workers in growing companies.
A steady stream of entrepreneurs seeking ways to accelerate their business provides impetus for regional economic development activities. Programs like Entrepreneur Boot Camp are foundational resources for new businesses; BioArbor and the Annual Collaboration for Entrepreneurship showcase the entrepreneurial success needed to support Michigan’s new economy. Leveraging educational resources throughout the region is integral to economic development. Ann Arbor SPARK’s partnerships with the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, Washtenaw Community College and the University Research Corridor increase the success of technology transfer and keep valuable knowledge workers here in our community – creating, innovating and thriving.
There are examples throughout the state of what’s working in economic development – examples that are open and available to all. Like the software industry mavens and high technology businesses we need to attract to help move Michigan forward, adopting an “open source” mentality has amazing potential to attract businesses, innovators and talent to our state.