Manufacturing Technology

June 5, 2002
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As the slowdown deepens and AlanGreenspan and Co. do little to lessen it, the rest of the country looks at Michigan and thinks, "Manufacturing and automobiles… hmmm. They're really going to feel it."

But that was then and this is now.

Manufacturing is still king in the Midwest, but the technological offshoots from that process are making Michigan a leader in 21st century innovation.

"There is more technology now in the electrical seat controller of the car that you drive than there was in the first space flight," said MarkClevey, vice president of the U.S. Small Business Administration's Lansing office.

Michigan Economic Development Corp. CEO DougRothwell has long touted the state's technological breakthroughs that have come as a result of research and development in the automotive industry.

But now, even more than that, the state can lay claim to another technological hub.

"There's more new technology coming out of the University of Michigan than any other university in the world," Clevey said. "For the most part, we have ignored that competitive advantage for the last 100 years. So all of a sudden people have figured this out and there's more activity going on in Ann Arbor than any place else."

And the good news is that the research and development is widespread across a spectrum of areas.

"We're talking machine technologies, biotechnologies, information technologies. Now they (U-M) aren't as smart as Stanford and some of these other places in transferring that technology to industry, but they're catching up real fast," Clevey said.

And the state is doing its share to enhance the process by setting up areas that are conducive to doing business and conducting research at the same time.

"Michigan is getting real smart about this," Clevey observed. "They've created what they call smart zones, and the smart zones are housed in conjunction with the universities."

That's the way to get up to speed—and get funding—in a hurry.

"So let's look at this in terms of a funnel," he said. "Tax dollars go into Washington. Washington spends $100 billion a year on federal R&D, and the largest university receiver of that is the University of Michigan. Between U of M, Michigan State, and Wayne State, we get $600 million to $700 million pumped into those universities every year."

And that will pay for a lot of electronic seat controllers.

  • Better late than never.

Metropolitan Hospital's announcement this month that it wants to develop a suburban hospital campus in Wyoming brought the curtain down on several months of speculation that blew through the rumor mill regarding exactly where Metro would land.

Cascade Country Club looked nice.

The DanDeVos-inspired "community" concept in Ada Township had some allure.

East Paris Avenue's new "medical corridor" and even the Pine Rest campus near 68th Street also had some interesting possibilities.

Metro looked at 19 separate locations during the two-year process. The site at Gezon Parkway and Byron Center Avenue was one that became available only recently and turned out to be "our favorite and best piece" of land the hospital looked at.

"Somebody was looking out for us," Metro President MichaelFaas said.

And, no, he probably didn't mean AlRietberg of Rietberg Realty Co.

  • Real estate of a different form also will be in the news soon.

The six branches that Old Kent/Fifth Third was required to divest itself of probably will go to Chemical Financial Corp., which in January purchased Shoreline Financial Corp. in Benton Harbor.

The new entity, Chemical Bank Shoreline, will have sign changes at more than 30 branches next month, and word has it that Shoreline is taking a hard look at four of the Old Kent/Fifth Third sites, and maybe all six.

Of specific interest are the ones in Holland, Zeeland and St. Joseph. But the Grand Haven and Fremont centers are of interest, too.

  • Put 'em up, put 'em up!

If the Michigan Public Service Commission ends up rejecting the proposed "overlay" for the 616 area code in West Michigan, as it has in the past in other areas of the state, it's likely to generate a new battle: Who gets to keep 616 and who needs to get used to a new area code.

At last week's MPSC public hearing on the matter, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce's RustyMerchant offered a solution to what could become a politically sticky decision: GR Chamber chief JohnBrown has already agreed to meet his counterpart in Kalamazoo, JohnLong III, "in the middle of U.S. 131 and arm wrestle."

"My bet is on my guy," Merchant jokingly added, to which Public Service Commissioner DavidSvanda, perhaps acknowledging the tough decision that awaits he and his colleagues, replied, "Be sure to let us know when and where it's occurring."

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