Blog: Larry Eiler

Back in 2001 Larry Eiler, CEO of Eiler Communications and director of the Small Business Association of Michigan, wrote an essay comparing our entrepreneurial landscape with Silicon Valley. Needless to say Michigan came up lacking. Boy, what a difference 10 years makes. In this week's guest blog Larry updates his assessment and finds more than a few encouraging trends.

Post 1: What A Difference A Decade Makes

Back in 2001, I wrote that Michigan had almost no real capacity to develop technology companies. I compared Michigan and California’s Silicon Valley on several important factors in developing a healthy entrepreneurial infrastructure. The name of my article was "Comparing Start-up Information Technology Companies: Michigan Vs. Silicon Valley."

In that comparison, based on my experience working in both states, Michigan fell far behind. It had virtually no investment community, and no groups like SPARK, Automation Alley, Tech Town and Southwest Michigan First to nurture fledgling ideas and get entrepreneurs started on the road to commercial success.

Now, 10 years later, Michigan stands in a dramatically different position.

>Ten years ago, Michigan did not have the infrastructure to foster entrepreneurs.
Today we do. SPARK, the Small Business Technology & Development Center, the Small Business Association of Michigan, Automation Alley, Tech Town, The Right Place, MEDC Smart Zones and other similar efforts are helping to seed the ground with innovative start-ups.

>Ten years ago, Michigan had virtually no investment community.
Today we do. The Venture Michigan Fund, Michigan Venture Capital Association, six angel investor groups, and several prominent VC firms have regional representatives.  “This is light years ahead of 10 years ago,” says Tom Kinnear, president and chairman of the Venture Michigan Fund, a $200 million fund for VCs.

>Ten years ago, we had no well-organized technology transfer offices at our colleges and universities.

  Today we do. The University of Michigan, Wayne State University, Michigan State University and other public and private universities across the state are aggressively developing their technology transfer programs and helping to launch the state's next generation of business..

>Ten years ago, entrepreneurship was not widely heralded in our state.

  Today we have numerous successful entrepreneurs and a large pool of up-and-coming candidates.

>Ten years ago, Michigan had a thriving automobile manufacturing economy.

  Today, it has been reconstituted, is substantially smaller, and showing signs of promise for the future, albeit in a much less dominant way in our state.

>Ten years ago, Michigan had more than 13 million residents.

  Today, we have less than 11 million, and we have lost nearly 850,000 jobs since 2000.

All of the above changes happened with great effort. They took nearly a decade to produce. And the good news is that many of those efforts appear to be paying off. Michigan may have hit bottom but it is now poised to bounce back. The state is in position to begin adding jobs, according to the most recent forecast by U-M economists George Fulton, Joan Crary and Donald Grimes.

In November, those U-M economists predicted Michigan will gain jobs for the first time in 10 years. They say Michigan will gain 24,500 jobs in 2011 and another 63,000 jobs in 2012 as the state economic gains economic traction. To get a perspective on what this means, Michigan suffered job losses of 17,000 in 2010, and an unprecedented 230,000 jobs lost in 2009.

No one would claim that the first set of numbers balances out the second. But as an indicator of where we are headed, there is much to be encouraged by.

Tomorrow I will reflect on the key elements in Michigan's dramatic turnaround.