A young man steps inside the McKinley Towne Centre in Ann Arbor and asks a valet, "Is this the Google building?" The Internet search and advertising giant has arrived.
Taking over a former bank headquarters, Google has transformed a bland downtown office buikding into spacious high-tech environment. The modern lobby boasts flat screen plasma TVs tuned to CNN. Private offices and narrow carpeted hallways have given way to flexible work spaces that boast Google's primary color scheme: red, green, yellow and blue. The place is bright, airy and buzzes with energy.
Last Thursday, Google AdWords leader Grady Burnett welcomed Ann Arbor community leaders to its new space and provided them with a slick but quick tour of its fifth floor offices. Gathered in the Battle Creek Cafeteria --an open space adorned with vintage cereal boxes-- sixty or so guests mingled with 100 recenly hired 'Googlers' (most of whom were under 30) before being escorted through the new digs. Debbie Dingell (wife of U.S. Rep. John Dingell) and Governor Jennifer Granholm were on hand for photo ops.
Driving home her argument that tax cuts aren't nearly as important as investing in high-tech firms, encouraging entrepeneurship and attracting talent, Granholm said Google is "the most obvious example of what we are trying to build, as we reshape the next Michigan. We love the Michigan that has been, and is -- we love our auto economy -- but we know we have to enlarge and diversify the economy to keep young people here."
Google intends for Ann Arbor to be the home for its AdWords division for at least the next five years, employing as many as 1,000 people. The company's bread and butter, Adwords allow advertisers to create keyword-based ads that display alongside online search results.
To many local officials, the worker-friendly offices seemed revelatory if not downright eccentric. Chuckles of amusement and, occassionally, disbelief accompanied the tour.
Of course, anyone who's spent time on the West Coast, would feel right at home with Google's unconventional design choices, high tech flourishes and easy access to free food.
"They call it the Google twenty," jokes facilities manager Tracy Weaver, referring to the wide array of snacks provided to employees in the cafe/meeting area. "We all have to be careful." A flyer with Richard Simmons advises Googlers to "snack responsibly."
"When the build-out is complete the office will include a fitness room and a secure bike room," Weaver adds, "to help us stay healthy." Non-traditional features include a private room for nursing mothers, massage chairs, walls adorned with employee handprints, lava lamps and a Mr. Potato Head in every cubicle. The building will even boast its own generator, ensuring power to the company's servers no matter how severe the Michigan weather.
Ever-conscious of their Great Lakes surroundings, Google hired local muralists to christen their conference rooms with Michigan cities, landmarks and towns. The company's upper floors sport names from the Upper Peninsula while the lower floors get names indigenous to the Lower Peninsula. Surprisingly, local communities contributed authentic signs, antiques and knick-knacks to round out the decor.
Google is expected to occupy 80,000 square feet (nearly 70%) of the McKinley Towne Centre by early fall, according to Robert Kraemer of Kraemer Design Group. The Detroit-based firm is responsible for the Ann Arbor office's interior design work.
For more information about Google Adword positions, click here.
A few choice comments overheard at Google's open house included:
"It'll be nice to see some good news in the media instead of all the negative bu#@$%it."
"Why is Google coming here? In the great empty center of the country, U of M and Ann Arbor are true resources."
"The handprints are cool but how many lava lamps does one company need."
"My company doesn't even offer free coffee."
"I'd love to work here but I'm probably too old. Everyone looks so young."
Jeff Meyers is the managing editor for Concentrate and Metromode. He is also a film critic with Detroit's Metro Times.