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Great Lakes Great Location: Build Your Future in Michigan Michigan-a state known for its boom and bust cycles-is booming again.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Manufacturing in Michigan—its lifeblood over the past century—is making a strong comeback despite global competition. Since December 2009, Michigan has led the nation with more than 88,000 new manufacturing jobs, according to the National Associa­tion of Manufacturers. Stable wage rates and favorable natural gas prices have made the U.S. more competitive for manufacturing.

While substantial gains occurred in Michigan's resurgent automotive indus­try, they were also reported in food pro­cessing, furniture, medical equipment, pharmaceuticals and defense.

This healthy, diversified recovery is expected to continue, according to University of Michigan economists George Fulton, Donald Grimes and Joan Crary. They expect the next two years to be "largely encouraging and optimistic" and predict an additional 130,000 jobs in all sectors of the state's economy.

According to business leaders, some of the credit goes to Gov. Rick Snyder, who has balanced Michigan's budget and improved the business tax cli­mate. He and his legislative colleagues in Lansing eliminated the state's com­plex Michigan Business Tax and replaced it with a simple six­percent flat rate on corporations that exempts most small businesses.

In 2013, Michigan became the 24th state to join the "right to work" band­wagon with a law prohibiting unions from forcing workers to join and pay dues. In August, Michigan voters will be asked to approve a ballot question allowing the state to redirect use taxes in order to eliminate the onerous per­sonal property tax levied on business and manufacturing equipment.

"The government and governor have made things a lot easier in terms of corporate taxes," says Chuck ­Hadden, president and CEO of the Michigan Manufacturers Association. "We have cut a number of regulations in the state, maybe more than a thousand, that weren't necessary. We are moving forward in that area while still having the safety of our public in mind. We are still looking for other ways we can improve, like our personal property tax."

Hadden also credits Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.

"He has a relentless, positive attitude about turning Michigan around and tackling the problems we have an not kicking them down the road," Hadden explains. "We've had a balanced budget for the last few years – a real balanced budget, not done by smoke and mirrors. He is focused on making a difference."

But there's more to Michigan than making things. The resilient, never­say­die spirit of its people—combined with a Midwestern hard work ethic—has yielded results in unlikely places. Where else could Dan Gilbert take a bruised industry (mortgage lending) in a badly bruised city (Detroit) and pump new life into both?

As local, state and federal officials wrestle with Detroit's bankruptcy and work on its revitalization, Gilbert has been buying or leasing skyscrapers (more than 40 buildings at last count) in Detroit's central business district and creating a city within the city. At its core is Quicken Loans, the nation's largest online lender (and third largest overall behind JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo) with $80 billion worth of mortgages during 2013.

Southfield, MI, native Dan Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans, has purchased or leased a huge swath of downtown Detroit and is aggressively revitalizing the motor City and transforming it into a 21st-century high-tech hub.

Southfield, MI, native Dan Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans, has purchased or leased a huge swath of downtown Detroit and is aggressively revitalizing the motor City and transforming it into a 21st-century high-tech hub.
Photo credit: QuickenLoans.com

Quicken Loans is not your father's residential mortgage lender. Casual dress and Nerf gunfights mix with speed and efficiency—the lender has won J.D. Power's award for highest customer satisfaction four years in a row and Fortune magazine recently named it a Top Five Best Place to Work.

Gilbert, who grew up five decades ago in nearby Southfield, MI, hires and trains recent college graduates who are attracted to urban areas. With about 9,000 employees on his payroll, Gilbert is turning the area into a hightech hub complete with restaurants, retail stores, apartments and his own security force. More than 100 small businesses have settled into nearby buildings, some of them startups funded by Detroit Venture Partners, a venture capital company he co­owns.

That same entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well 45 miles to the west in Ann Arbor. In an attempt to retain the talented young people who attend the University of Michigan, economic devel­opers are providing the services and support to commercialize innovation.

Less than two years old, a startup called Avegant has designed and engi­neered a product called the Glyph, a headset that can deliver sound and high­definition video. The Glyph uses an HBMI input to display content from iPhones, Macs, PCs and gaming systems such as PlayStation and Xbox. It's cur­rently in the alpha stages of develop­ment, with preorders being taken and shipping expected in 2015.

Starting in one of two business incu­bators operated by Ann Arbor Spark and funded with angel money and venture capital, Avegant recently raised $1.5 mil­lion on the crowd­funding platform Kick­starter. Of the company's nine employees, seven are former U of M students, including CEO Edward Tang and co­founder and lead engineer Alan Evans.

Avegant, which emerged from a business incubator operated by Ann Arbor SPARK, is commercializing its Glyph headset, which can deliver high-fidelity sound and high-definition video to users.

Avegant, which emerged from a business incubator operated by Ann Arbor SPARK, is commercializing its Glyph headset, which can deliver high-fidelity sound and high-definition video to users.
Photo credit: Doug Coombe

If another Ann Arbor­based experi­ment is successful, people may be able to wear their Glyphs while being trans­ported in driverless vehicles.

Over the past two years, U of M's Transportation Research Institute— funded in large part by the U.S. Depart­ment of Transportation—is testing "con­nected vehicles" in an effort to increase auto safety and reduce traffic conges­tion. In northeast Ann Arbor, 3,000 cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles and bicycles are equipped with vehicle­to­vehicle wireless communications devices. Similar sensors are placed at busy intersections, sharp curves and local freeways.

So far, the pilot effort has tracked four million trips and 25­million miles of travel. Plans call for tripling (to 9,000) the number of vehicles in the study. Long term, it's hoped the results could lead to automated, driverless vehicles—a concept already being tested by Google, General Motors, Toyota and Tesla.

U of M, which receives about $1 bil­lion in research funding each year, is not the only major player in Michigan. Sev­enty miles up the road in East Lansing, Michigan State University just broke ground on a $700­million rare isotope accelerator. The Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) already is attracting some of the top minds in nuclear physics research and is projected to pump $1 billion of economic activity into the state.

When it's completed in 2022, FRIB will be one of the world's most power­ful machines for conducting nuclear science research into the origins of the physical world as well as advancements in medicine, national security and detection technologies.

MSU's renowned packaging school has produced more than half of all U.S. graduates in that field during its six decades of existence. Originally established in 1855 as the Agricultural Col­lege of the State of Michigan, MSU continues to be a leader in agriculture and natural resources.

Food and agriculture—from growing and packaging to retailing and distribu­tion—contributes more than $91 billion to Michigan's economy. Second only to California in diversity of food products, Michigan leads the nation in 11 different categories from dry beans (in the Thumb) to tart cherries in the Grand Traverse region.

Michigan's 21st Century Incentives

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), the state's lead eco­nomic development agency—working closely with local economic development offices—offers business assistance services and capital programs for business attraction and acceleration. Michigan has revamped of its incentive programs to more effectively align them with critical business needs in today's ultra­competitive economy.

Two years ago, Michigan replaced three tax­incentive programs with the Michigan Business Development Program and Michigan Community Revitalization Program, $100­million per year incentive­based initiatives administered through the Michigan Strategic Fund. The Business Development Program focuses on job creation and busi­ness investments in Michigan and replaced the 12­year­old Michigan Economic Growth Authority jobs credits. A business must commit to providing at least 50 new jobs, or 25 if the jobs are high­tech or the business is located in a rural area.

The Community Revitalization Program replaces both the brownfield tax and the historic redevelopment credits, and focuses on urban revitalization in downtowns or commercial centers. To qualify for CRP, a project must be on a site that is contami­nated or blighted or has a building that is functionally obsolete or historic.

The State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI) is a federal program modeled after the Michigan Strategic Fund's successful Capital Access Program. SSBCI provides gap financing to help finance small businesses and manufacturers that are creditworthy but not getting the loans they need to expand and create jobs.

The MEDC works to increase the availability of capital for companies in Michigan at every stage of company development. MEDC can help connect your business with capital providers—federal grants, venture capitalists, banks and others—as well as offer programs that can expand the reach of those capital providers. For more on these capital programs, visit: http://www.michiganbusiness.org/grow/access­capital/

Customized services are available from a knowledgeable and experienced Business Development Manager for any company locating or expanding in Michigan. Contact the MEDC by calling (517) 373­9809 or visiting www.michiganadvantage.org.

A Renaissance In Lansing

Like the state, the capital city of Lansing also is experiencing a renaissance. Ten years after the final Oldsmobile Alero rolled off GM's Lansing Car Assembly Plant, Cadillac's award­winning CTS and ATS cars are being built in the Lansing Grand River Plant. Popular crossover vehicles are made at the Lansing Delta Plant, which runs three shifts.

GM plans to build a new logistics center and stamping plant with the impending move of Chevrolet Camero production. "The end of Oldsmobile wasn't the end of GM," proclaims Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero.

Another traditional area of manufacturing exists in west Michigan. Grand Rapids, the state's second­largest city, is the unofficial capital of west Michigan. Less dependent on auto manufacturing than southeast Michigan, the west Michigan "Big Three" are office furniture manufacturers Steelcase, Haworth and Herman Miller. Increased demand for their products is predicted in 2015 by the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association, which is forecasting 10.4 percent growth with sales topping $10 billion.

Blessed with many philanthropists who remained loyal to their Grand Rapids roots, the benefits of their giving are everywhere—Van Andel Institute, Meijer Gardens and DeVos Place to name three. Van Andel Institute, estab­lished in the late 1990s by Amway co­founder Jay Van Andel and his wife Betty, is a biomedical research organiza­tion that anchors Grand Rapids' Medical Mile. The health care cluster includes a medical school and hospital.

The Starting Gates, an artistic rendition of horses fording the Grand River in Grand Rapids, MI, were installed as part of the city's annual ArtPrize event. Each horse is constructed of tree branches and supported by a vertical metal bar.
Photo credit: Emptywheel.net

Five years ago, Rick DeVos, named after his grandfather and other Amway co­founder Richard DeVos, established ArtPrize, exhibiting the artwork of more than 1,000 artists from around the world in a three­square­mile area of down­town. Artists are connected to a venue— whether it be a restaurant, office building, museum, church or public park—and their works are displayed for 19 days starting in late September.

With approximately $500,000 in prize money at stake, the public deter­mines winners in the various categories. Voters can register at a physical loca­tion or by iPhone or Android applica­tion. By accessing the ArtPrize website, voters can give pieces of art a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down." Last year's event drew nearly 400,000 visitors to Grand Rapids and pumped an estimated $22 million into the local economy.

ArtPrize was one of the reasons given by Lonely Planet Travel Guide for nam­ing Grand Rapids its No. 1 U.S. destina­tion to visit in 2014. The popular inter­national travel website included a 300­mile stretch of sandy­white beaches along nearby Lake Michigan as well as the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Meijer Gardens and a variety of craft beer breweries that host festivals throughout the year.

Lake Michigan is one of four Great Lakes that surround Michigan's two distinct peninsulas. The five Great Lakes account for 84 percent of North American's surface fresh water and provide drinking water for 40 million people. The Great Lakes, combined with 11,000 inland lakes and 36,000 miles of rivers and streams, make Michigan a top destination for Midwest travelers.

The state's successful Pure Michigan campaign, narrated by Michigan native Tim Allen, attracts new visitors and con­tributes to the $17.7 billion tourism industry. Popular tourist attractions include Frankenmuth, Traverse City, Mackinac Island and the picturesque Upper Peninsula.

Michigan's diverse manufacturing base, skilled and productive workforce, easy access to domestic and foreign markets, world­class universities, rich cultural and natural resources form a solid foundation for a bright and prosperous future.

Preparing Michigan Workers with the Knowledge, Skills to Compete

Michigan is taking the steps necessary to ensure that workers and employers will be ready for the work demands of the future. With one­third of the state's 9.9 million population under the age of 25, Michigan is a leader in cyber schools, internships, apprenticeships and higher education.

Employee training and retraining is offered through a network of 28 publicly sup­ported community colleges—often for free—to meet employers' needs. Nearly one­half million students are enrolled in Michigan community colleges.

Here is a partial list of education and training programs available in Michigan:

Michigan Technical Education Centers or M­TECs work within the community college network to deliver on­demand training. http://www.michiganbusiness.org/cm/files/ fact­sheets/michigantechnicaleducationcentersmtec.pdf

The Michigan New Jobs Training Program offers up to $50 million of free training each year for employers that are creating new jobs. http://www.mcca.org/content.cfm?id=43

Automation Alley started 15 years ago in Oakland County to address a shortage of technical workers; today it has grown to nearly 1,000 business and educational institutions in eight surrounding counties. http://www.automationalley.com/

Kalamazoo Promise was started in 2005 by a group of anonymous donors who pledged to pay tuition at any of Michigan's colleges or universities for graduates of Kalamazoo's high schools. The program is being replicated in eight other Michigan cities. https://www.kalamazoopromise.com/

The Michigan Virtual School offers a wide range of online courses (seven languages, 21 Advanced Placement courses and hundreds of math, science and social studies classes) to all Michigan students. http://www.mivhs.org/

Michigan has about 9,100 apprentices and recently launched the Michigan Advanced Technician Training Program in southeast Michigan based on a German model of education and employer commitment. http://www.mitalent.org/mat2/

Pure Michigan Talent Connect is an online talent bank listing tens of thousands of jobs and workers' resumes on the Internet. http://www.mitalent.org/

In an attempt to keep recent college grads in Michigan, a young Detroit entrepreneur helped create Intern in Michigan to connect students with employers. http://interninmichigan.com/

Michigan Works! is a statewide network with regional employment centers that provide a variety of services for employers and workers. http://www.michiganworks.org.

Michigan Economic Development Corporation

Michigan Economic Development Corporation