GR Business Leaders See High Tech Opportunities

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LANSING — Grand Rapids business leaders welcome Gov. John Engler's plan to attract new high-tech firms to Michigan.

Engler offered tax incentives as a lure in his recent State of the State speech.

"Basically, what the governor is trying to do is to get the word out that Michigan is rolling out the red carpet to new high-tech businesses," said Jennifer Kopp, a communication specialist for Michigan Economic Development Corporation. "Michigan is willing to do whatever it takes to attract them here."

In 1995, Engler proposed the Michigan Economic Growth Authority program to attract high-tech companies. Now, the governor is trying to expand the program by offering high-tech tax credits to businesses that are new to the state, Kopp said.

The Grand Rapids area, where high technology is vital to its economy, would benefit from the governor's plan, said John H. Brown, president of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. "Because the Grand Rapids area has been outperforming the state generally with business development, we are well-positioned to benefit from the proposed high-tech tax credits," Brown said.

"Tax benefits should go directly to those that have helped to make Michigan's economy great, as well as to those that are now attracted to the state because of its greatness."

The Grand Rapids area will be competitive because of additional high-tech businesses, but it will be stronger as a region, said Keith Brophy, president of SageStone, a computer software manufacturer in Grand Rapids.

"High tech is interesting, because there is so much partnering and collaboration between different high-tech businesses," Brophy said.

"We welcome the infusion of the additional high-tech businesses into the area."

The tax-cut plan will be applied only to newcomers, but Brophy said it's better than nothing.

"I would rather see, at least, some encouragement of high-tech businesses than not at all," Brophy said. "I would say I support it."

Michigan needs to attract high-tech companies to be economically successful in the future, Kopp said.

"Everyone is becoming increasingly more reliant on high technologies," Kopp said. "Michigan needs to capitalize on this closed-end high-tech sector and the technology that's taking place to continue to have a viable economy."

Michigan is interested in high technologies such as research on human genome or micromechanical electrosystems, she said. But Michigan is more interested in advanced manufacturing, life sciences and information technology, Kopp said.

The governor's plan would eliminate the Single Business Tax for new high-tech industries in the state. But the SBT will be phased out anyway over the next 20 years for all businesses, said Susan Shafer, the governor's deputy press secretary. "We're really trying to make Michigan a more attractive place for companies to do business."

Brophy said the Grand Rapids area hopes to attract enough new high-tech companies to become a nationwide leader in the field. "Grand Rapids and West Michigan have a great quality of life index," he said.

"Grand Rapids is a great place for high-tech business to relocate. Collectively, we'll be able to better compete on a nationwide basis."

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