SAULT STE. MARIE — Greetings from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan’s first city, as the Great Lakes Innovation and Technology Report’s 2012 Spring Tech Tour kicks off.

This town of 14,000, founded all the way back in 1668 by the legendary Father Jacques Marquette, is home to a burgeoning tech industry, not to mention Michigan’s smallest state university, Lake Superior State.

I’ll be visiting several of those tech companies Friday with the Sault Economic Development Corp. to start my weeklong tour.

Saturday, I’ll be checking in on high-tech economic development and entrepreneurship projects in St. Ignace, Hillman (yes, Hillman, a tiny burg between Alpena and Gaylord that seems more like the UP than some places in the UP) and Petoskey, before spending Sunday with my in-laws in the Traverse City area in preparation for a bunch of cool visits in Traverse City Monday.

From there, the Tech Tour moves on to the Tri-Cities (Midland, Bay City and Saginaw) Tuesday, Grand Rapids Wednesday, Kalamazoo Thursday and Lansing Friday.

In case you aren’t familiar with the Tech Tour, what the heck is the Tech Tour? Well, your Great Lakes Innovation and Technology Report claims to be a statewide publication. Yet, reality dictates that since I live in Dearborn and work in Southfield, it’s hard for me as a practical matter to get much beyond Flint or Ann Arbor to report on anything, and still get back to the home or office the same day and produce the daily newsletter.

Thus, the Tech Tour. Two or three weeks a year, the powers that be at WWJ kick me out of the office in a sponsored car, and send me to Mid-Michigan, West Michigan and Way Up North to check up on tech-based economic development, and tech-based startups and second-stage companies, all over the half of Michigan that isn’t metro Detroit. As a West Michigan native and former resident of Leelanau and Grand Traverse counties, I don’t mind one bit. In fact it’s a highlight of my year.

So what am I driving? Well, a vehicle that actually suits my actual lifestyle. No gold-plated dreamboat. Not even anything electric or hybrid. But a plain old internal combustion engine — albeit a very advanced one that manages almost 40 mpg on the highway. It’s a Ford Focus, is all, a commutermobile — but boy, is this one cool car. It’s not just the zippy little engine or the roller-skate handling or the amazing quiet on the road for a car this size. It’s the MyFord Touch system with Sync Services.

Essentially, that’s an eight-inch computer screen in the middle of the dashboard, and another four-inch one in the instrument cluster. It gives me access to tons of useful information — weather radar superimposed on a traffic map, instant alerts of accidents or traffic backups or storms ahead — all carefully presented so as not to distract from driving. And there’s the usual terrific Sync voice recognition for hands-free calling. And there’s one heck of a Sony sound system that plays loud enough to make a dead man’s ears bleed. All this for under $25,000. I love it!

So thanks to Plex Systems, Lawrence Technological University and ITC Holdings for sponsoring this week and making it possible. And let the tour begin!


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