Snapshots: 60 Seconds With Jennifer Nelson, Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Nelson, Executive Vice President, Business Development, MEDC, discusses the state's new Creative Chambers Initiative, its award winning International Trade Program, the business climate for entrepreneurs and more.

By the BF Staff
From the July/August 2017 Issue

BF: The Michigan Film & Digital Media Office has introduced the Creative Chambers Initiative, a pilot program to retain and attract new talent for creative industries in five MI communities. How does the initiative work and what are its goals?

Jennifer Nelson, Executive Vice President, Business Development, Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC)

JN: The Creative Chambers initiative is foremost a statewide job-creation initiative that focuses on building the state’s creative industries by offering a tailored approach to specifically attracting and retaining talent that works in the many creative industry occupations. (NOTE: These occupations include a range of expertise in fields as diverse as advertising, marketing, communications, graphic arts, performing arts, videography, broadcast, illustration/animation, etc.) Providing these grants helps to establish a formal connection with key economic development networks across the state. Ultimately, the program addresses what kind of communities are attractive to Millennials, who want to live, work and play in vibrant, engaging communities.

The five Creative Chambers communities include Detroit, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Traverse City and Marquette. Creative Chambers augment each community’s economic development strategy as it relates to fostering a sense of place, and providing businesses with a broader range of talent. “Creative work” is not exclusive to the arts; creative services are among the many job roles that support nearly any commercial/business enterprise, e.g. a graphic designer is an artist employed by a manufacturer.

BF: MEDC’s International Trade Program recently received the president’s E Award, the highest national honor for progress in the expansion of U.S. exports. What are the key factors that have contributed to Michigan’s success in growing its exports?

JN: MEDC’s International Trade Program works to extend export opportunities to more Michigan companies and ensure they are connected with the resources to explore new markets, access existing export resources and increase global competitiveness. The key is a world-class supply chain/logistics system of ports, rails, airports and a network of efficient transport means that provide a cost-effective and efficient path to export and compete globally.

Michigan has exported over $54.7 billion in goods around the globe. The MEDC international trade program has assisted companies with exporting to 121 countries constituting $523.9 million in sales supporting over 270,240 jobs here in the state. Since 2012, the International Trade Program has sponsored 40 trade missions to 16 countries with more than 340 company participations. As part of company participation in the trade missions, MEDC arranges on-the-ground matchmaking meetings utilizing in-market specialists from Michigan’s international trade offices or from the International U.S. Commercial Service Offices. Participants also receive in-market assistance, market briefings and participation in networking events.

BF: In 2016, 54 startups in Michigan received more than $222 million from MI venture capital firms. Is the state expanding its programs to support entrepreneurship? What makes MI so attractive to startups?

JN: Innovation and the entrepreneurial drive are among the distinctive features of Michigan’s heritage and an essential part of the state’s economic DNA.

MEDC’s entrepreneur and innovation initiative provides timely expertise in creating and growing a business; this is accomplished by providing high-tech start-up companies with access to a variety of critical resources, such as funding and expert counsel, from ideation to maturation. A key aspect of fostering the state’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is Michigan’s 17 SmartZones, which feature technology business accelerators that provide essential services to the start-up community.

Indeed, Michigan has proven to be a thriving environment for entrepreneurs. Detroit was named one of the best places to live for tech entrepreneurs. In the last five years, there has been a 70 percent increase in venture-backed companies in Michigan. And, Michigan is first in highest research spending-to-venture capital investment ration in the nation. For every $1 invested in venture capital in the state, $149 is invested in research.

BF: The U.S. has a shortage of skilled workers for high-tech industries. Is Michigan working with businesses and higher-education resources to produce graduates with the skills to fill STEM-oriented jobs?

JN: Attracting, training and placing skill-trade professionals is among the highest priorities for Michigan. Indeed, the range of talent is among the state’s most attractive features to businesses. That was part of the rationale behind Gov. Snyder’s support of the MSF board’s decision to invest $50 million to educate skill trades professionals. The investment for skilled-trades equipment is the largest investment by any state.

Michigan is committed to helping fill the talent pipeline through our commitments through the educational and professional spectrum. Michigan has more First Robotics teams than any other state as well as K–12 programs such as Square One. In addition, SAE Michigan CyberAuto Challenge pairs high school students with professionals to participate in virtual hacking exercises to develop auto and cyber specific talent as well as mitigate risk in cyber automotive development. At the collegiate level, for example, University of Michigan boasts the No. 3 ranked aerospace engineering program in the country. Michigan is also No. 1 nationally in concentration of electric, mechanical, and industrial engineers.

BF: Is Michigan prepared to become a leader in the emerging cybersecurity growth sector?

JN: Michigan is a leader in cybersecurity. Michigan’s Cybersecurity Initiative is the world’s first comprehensive state-level approach to cyber, improving the state’s defenses and fostering rapidly growing cyber talent and business environments. Michigan’s focus has been based on finding innovative solutions to prevent and respond to cyber threats with a focus on building a strong “cyber ecosystem” of partners in both the public and private sectors. Michigan is developing a robust cybersecurity community focused on connecting the interests of the cyber, automotive, defense, and aerospace industries. Key Department of Defense R&D and procurement facilities are located in Michigan to support developing dual-use technologies that have both commercial automotive and military applications. The Michigan Cyber Range (MCR), powered by Merit, offers a virtual, unclassified platform for cyber exercises, product testing, and digital forensics. Merit’s Regional Cybersecurity Education Collaboration offers training to expand the pool of available cybersecurity workers in Michigan (and beyond).