Jennifer Owens, Ann Arbor SPARK’s vice president for business development, is charged with overseeing the organization’s efforts to attract and retain new businesses to the Ann Arbor region.  Over this week, Owens is on a mission trip to California, meeting with companies with interests in Ann Arbor, companies that are looking for a high tech community to expand or locate as well as with University of Michigan graduates who have started a business on the west coast. We asked her to share her experiences with GLITR’s readers. Today, here’s Day Two.

What do you get when you put almost 30 Bay Area power brokers in a room to discuss the Ann Arbor region?  Apparently, a bunch of die hard Wolverines longing to hear more good news about Michigan. Our CEO to CEO dinner was held Tuesday night in Palo Alto. It was attended by venture capitalists and technology leaders including John Denniston, of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and leadership from Google. As each person introduced themselves it became clear that they had some tie to University of Michigan, had grown up in the Midwest or were targeting the region for expansion or investment opportunities. They spoke of the low cost of living, high quality of talent and strong connections to the University of Michigan as reasons for attending the event.  

This is a group of amazingly smart people so it was not a complete Michigan love fest. A venture capitalist and Michigan alum, Hank Barry, of Sidley Austin spoke about Michigan’s current non-compete clause employment law.  He stated it was the most restrictive of any state in the nation. Job jumping is somewhat of a hobby in the valley and helps keep the region vibrant. He is working with Governor Granholm’s office and will likely be working with the next Governor’s office on loosening this law. Others pointed to concerns about the lack of concentration of technology companies in the region, making it difficult to make the move back. They might be able to find a position in Michigan, but if it doesn’t work out, they are not confident that another opportunity will be nearby. One of our senior executive attendees is actually a Michigan resident that commutes into Silicon Valley every week. He would love to find work in Michigan, but hasn’t been able to find an opportunity in the state. Our vice president of Talent Enhancement, Amy Cell, will be working overtime to bring him back home.

Overall, the group encouraged us to do more networking events in the region and keep the positive information about the state coming. Today is another packed day filled with meetings with technology company executives considering regional expansion and local technology consultants. Wish me luck!

(c) 2010, WWJ Newsradio 950. All rights reserved.


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