I’ve been posting a lot about Detroit and not very much at all about Ann Arbor. I blame this on the fact that news in Ann Arbor is usually on a much smaller scale than news in Detroit, and likewise its problems are on a smaller scale, and national coverage tends to reflect that.
This week I have a story that still isn’t 100% about Ann Arbor, but at least goes part-way in addressing the deficit. It’s about the kind of touchy-feely regional cooperation experts are always clamoring for but don’t see as often as they’d like; the news last week that the economic links between Motown and Tree Town have just helped the region score an economic development win: that the very first satellite office of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office is opening in Detroit.
Crain‘s reports it will lead to ‘hiring of 100 examiners,’ but what really got me excited is that according to Crain’s, it wasn’t just congressional clout that won Michigan the patent office, but — can you believe it? — our talent pool:
‘Setting up regional offices will allow the main patent office to no longer ask qualified candidates to move to the Washington, D.C., area. It also would give the office access to pockets of specialized skilled workers. That’s where Detroit comes in. The region’s abundance of advanced — and unemployed — engineers makes it a perfect fit for the pilot satellite office.’
Oh my GOD, we have a competitive advantage in something!!! If you have had to read Ed Glaesar and Richard Florida (and Lou Glazer, a kind of local Cassandra on this theme) as many times as I have, talking about how uneducated and low-skilled metro Detroit’s workforce* is compared to other large American metro areas, you will appreciate that particular passage from Crain’s.
Here’s where Ann Arbor comes in: the University of Michigan appears to have played a crucial role in the government’s decision:
‘(F)actor(s) in choosing the Detroit area… (included) low building costs, access to local research universities and a high number of patent applications coming out of Michigan.
‘“This city fulfills a number of critical criteria,” Kappos [director of the patent office] said.
In fact, if it weren’t for UM’s advocacy for its bigger neighbor Detroit might not have landed the office:
‘(Governor) Granholm said the University of Michigan “pushed to have this office come here…” The presence of schools such as UM and Wayne State University brings diversity to the local technology…’
AnnArbor.com reports the response from UM, and includes an encouraging factoid from our governor of which I was not aware, that ‘Michigan generates the seventh most patent applications of all the states.’ I’d like to revisit this high ranking on an important metric in my next post, as part of a broader reaction to Urbanophile’s recent re-post of his discussion of metropolitan strategy. I’ll take Aaron Renn’s rubric and see if I can identify some areas of competitive advantage for both Motown and Tree Town.
*Addendum: It occurred to me after posting that another thing I really like about this is that it supplements a trend of white-collar jobs coming into the city of Detroit. In particular, I think the federal government has done a great job of concentrating its local job investments in the core city in recent years. This pattern helps to ameliorate its pernicious record of dis-investing and actively contributing to the city’s self-destruction through most of the 20th century. I am not going to knock Southfield or Troy or Warren since playing city versus suburb only hurts the region in the long run, but if I have a choice in where new white collar jobs appear, I much prefer to see them within the city proper.