Blog: Ryan Anderson

Be territorial with your money. That's the mantra of software consultant Ryan Anderson, creator of the Buy Michigan website and organizer of the recent Buy Michigan Expo. This week, he'll discuss why consumers should shop Michigan first and will also advise area businesses on how to manage their web presence.

Ryan Anderson - Post 1: Why Buy Michigan Products?

In 2004, while working at Ford Motor Company, it became clear that the decline of the American automobile industry wasn't just temporary, and was in fact accelerating.  Michigan had never really recovered from the 2001 recession, which led some of my coworkers and I to discuss things that would help the state's economy - and the consensus was that if more people were aware of and bought Michigan-made products, we could keep more money here in the state.  

Being a web developer and database programmer, I came up with the idea for in February 2004, and launched the site in October 2004. The purpose of the site was to help consumers research and find Michigan-made products in their area to help boost local businesses.  The initial response was good, including some publicity in the Free Press, but traffic stagnated without a consistent source of visitors.

In June 2005, I resigned from Ford to work on the site full-time, in addition to doing free-lance development work.  During this time, I focused on optimizing the site for search engines and developing an email newsletter.  In order to forge a better relationship with our site visitors and listed companies, I decided to organize a one-day Buy Michigan Expo for November 2005.

This event was held at a hotel conference center in Lansing, and although turnout was rather light (due to an MSU football game and the opening of firearm deer hunting season) we did benefit from new connections made at the event, as well as increased traffic to the website.

One of the connections that we made at the Expo was with Matthew Birbeck, from the Product Center at MSU.  With its help, we planned a modified event for May 2006 called the Made In Michigan Festival.  As opposed to the previous indoor event, the two-day Festival was held outside in Old Town Lansing.  We also tied in with the state's Department of Humanities, Arts and Libraries, curator of the annual Michigan Week held in the third week of May.  This Festival was much more successful, bringing in roughly 1,800 people over the two-day event.  However, the logistics of organizing the outdoor Festival was difficult, and we lost a lot of money.  Not long after the event, my wife and I separated and later divorced, forcing me to put the website and future events on hold until that was sorted out.

In late 2008, traffic to the website saw a marked increase in visitors, up from about 5,000 monthly visits to around 8,000.  It was clear that the idea of buy local products was catching on as Michiganders realized how bad the economy was getting.  

I revisited the idea of the Expo, and made some modifications to the format.  As opposed to the previous incarnations, where people had to come specifically to our event, I decided to hold the next Expo inside a mall where consumers were already shopping.  We chose the Laurel Park Mall in Livonia primarily due to the proximity to the relatively affluent western Wayne County suburbs, with its date corresponding with the beginning of Michigan Week.  This turned out to be a great success for over 30 Michigan companies who participated, with an estimated crowd of 800 for the one-day Expo.  There are now plans to double the number of vendors for our next show, with dates forthcoming. is currently experiencing a healthy level of interest, and I hope that providing this information to Michigan consumers can help stabilize and improve our state's economy in the next few years.