Traverse City Business Leaders Pursuing Michigan Tech Partnership
By Amy Lane | Jan. 7, 2019
Traverse City area business leaders have been courting Michigan Technological University (MTU), and the relationship appears to be budding.
What began with education-oriented local discussions years ago has grown into broader engagement, as Traverse area players and Michigan Tech assess how they might work together.
Most recently: A November day-long visit in Traverse City by Michigan Tech President Richard Koubek and Vice President for University Relations and Enrollment John Lehman, meeting with local business, education, and entrepreneurial leaders.
TC’s Bill Myers, CEO of Promethient Inc. and a Michigan Tech grad, says it was an opportunity for the MTU leaders to learn more about the community from the likes of Munson Healthcare, Hagerty, Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District, Traverse City Area Public Schools, manufacturers, and a stop at incubator 20Fathoms. There was also an evening reception drawing additional community representatives.
Two months earlier at Michigan Tech came the first-ever Grand Traverse Region Day, an event showcasing to Upper Peninsula college students what the Grand Traverse region has to offer for future career opportunities.
“From our perspective, we see a region with a growing need for the type of educated talent Michigan Tech is known for producing, thanks to energetic and visionary leadership in the community,” says Michigan Tech’s Lehman. “The Grand Traverse Region Day we hosted on campus this fall was a great success, both in terms of representation from employers who traveled to Houghton and the number of students here at Tech that have a real interest in pursuing a career in the Grand Traverse region. Our communities share a wealth of common features, and so whether it be employment opportunities for our students, research endeavors for our faculty, or enhancing the quality of life for the residents, we’re committed to working with partners to benefit those constituents.”
Some in Traverse City are even musing whether an eventual bricks-and-mortar Michigan Tech presence in TC could be possible. But Myers cautions, “We really need to see what’s out there first. To me, that’s prescribing what it (the relationship) needs to look like, and in my mind, I’d rather see what grows organically.”
Another voice behind the effort is Traverse City investor Casey Cowell, who agrees with Myers’ assessment. “The truly valuable assets of our academic institutions are intellectual, human capital. Empowering these does not first require a building…so my guess is that step one will be to find the right way for MTU and our greater community to engage in compelling, productive, creative intellectual interaction. From that will evolve a physical structure plan as needed and necessary."
For now, Michigan Tech and Grand Traverse community members are getting to know each other, exploring opportunities and measuring fit a step at a time.
“I think the philosophy from the beginning was, let’s introduce one person here to a person there,” says Myers. “Over time, it’s my belief, it will become more obvious what engagement will look like, rather than prescribing it from above.”
Myers first organized a reception for Michigan Tech and local leaders last February at the Park Place Hotel. From that event, “a number of things just started at the working level,” he says, including scheduling the Grand Traverse Region Day, which drew more than 250 Michigan Tech students and more than 20 businesses from the Grand Traverse area.
Students that attended had done their homework, researching company profiles prior to the event and coming with questions and interest in learning more about potential opportunities in and around Traverse City, says Grand Traverse Area Manufacturing Council Executive Chairman Jon Dreher.
“There was no booth standing there without students coming to it,” says Dreher. “The most powerful part of the event I think was that we had students from our region going through the event, that were looking for opportunities to come back to our region.”
Next steps in the Michigan Tech relationship are yet to be seen, amid hopes it could eventually bear fruit for economic development, education, and business needs, like a pipeline of talent.
“I truly believe that engagement with Michigan Tech might be one of the greatest impacts we could make on creating those jobs…so that our kids have the opportunity to stay at home, or at least come back in the future,” says Myers.
Cowell agrees. "Traverse City will reap tremendous benefits from these expanding relationships with MTU. To attract research and technology development here and the associated high paying jobs…we need to have ready, existing access and relationships with major research institutions. Right now it is hard to say exactly how MTU in TC will evolve and what it will evolve into. But that is as it should be.”
Myers adds, however, that whatever transpires needs to be a complement to the educational offerings and assets that Northwestern Michigan College already brings to students, businesses, and the community.
Tapping into Michigan Tech resources like technologies or research and development are among areas of interest, as is Industry 4.0, a focus among local manufacturers and a topic in many discussions last month between Michigan Tech and business representatives, says Myers. Also referred to as the fourth industrial revolution, Industry 4.0 is the growing digital and technology influence in manufacturing, leading to increased automation, communication and analysis, and self-monitoring – a transformation in the way manufacturers operate.
“It’s the building tomorrow,” Dreher says, where Michigan Tech can help.