One of my pet projects over the last few years has been to try to rally the local Ann Arbor community to recognize that we really have a lot of cool stuff going on IN OUR BACK YARDS. Interestingly enough, many of these cool things are NOT venture funded, will never "go public" and so somehow go unnoticed, even to longtime community members.
Slashdot is my favorite example, and I use it frequently. What's striking is that even after a year or so of this (ranting), I never seem to run out of people who express amazement that Slashdot IS here. In Washtenaw County. Dexter, specifically.
Maybe IEEE Spectrum will change all of that? This month (November 2007), IEEE published an article about Slashdot. OK, so perhaps IEEE members aren't really the mainstream, but it's great to see it in print. Last month, I told some people over at SPARK about the Slashdot 10th anniversary party (it was held at Leopold Brothers, and I hear that a good time was had by all … over 200 people signed up to attend). It's really too bad that the local media has no apparent interest in such good news. Seriously, when was the last time, you saw any good news in the Ann Arbor Business section? It's not that the good news isn't here; it somehow just doesn't get published (sigh).
And no, Slashdot isn't the only Ann Arbor area success story. There are many businesses that are quite successful, from small spinoffs from the University of Michigan to small companies started by people who came here and decided that they wanted to stay. It's not just limited to software companies either. For grins, look at ultrafast lasers and optics in general. Ann Arbor is a hub for development in this research area by many companies. Want an example? Picometrix is a great example. Not only did they start here, but they were recently purchased by a large company in CA (Advanced Photonix) and brought the headquarters to Ann Arbor. Clark-MXR, Coherix, Michigan Aerospace, General Dynamics, Dexter Research, Ann Arbor Sensor Systems, Optimetrics, Kaiser, and K-Space are more examples.
And I know that I'm only scratching the surface here. So what's the point? The point is that there's cool stuff here and I think we're all better off knowing that.
Mike Finney, president of SPARK, has recently started a blog with MetroMode Magazine. He's been commending people for "doing something right". I'm glad that he's doing this. I don't think that he's actively searching out lists of cool companies (like above), but rather rewarding people for doing something right recently, and that's fine too. I think that all of us should keep
ranting promoting the community even to others in this community. If we don't know what cool things are here, we certainly can't expect others to see how cool we are. Ann Arbor is a thriving community in a state that is suffering some bad economic times. Let's continue to present the good news that comes out of this area, not only the bad.