Sunday, May 23, 2010

Bold experiment produces few jobs

Billion-dollar fund developed to diversify, save state's economy


Four years after Michigan launched the 21st Century Jobs Fund to diversify its economy and create jobs, the first two major initiatives under the 10-year, billion-dollar program have generated mixed results so far.

A handful of small companies that received loans look promising, a handful have failed and only a small number of direct jobs have been created. Venture capital firms outside the state that were awarded millions have been slow to invest in Michigan businesses. And the majority of the grants, loans and investment dollars went to recipients in one city: Ann Arbor.

On the positive side, many of the small companies that received loans say the money has proved critical to their survival. "It's really helped enable a lot of growth in our company," said Michelle Crumm, co-founder and chief business officer of Adaptive Materials. The Ann Arbor maker of portable fuel cell power systems for the military used the $6.3-million loan it received to buy new manufacturing equipment and to develop its products.

The jobs fund has been the centerpiece of Gov. Jennifer Granholm's economic development strategy. But critics say the money could have been better spent. Others accuse the state of trying to pick winners by funneling millions to only four industries: advanced manufacturing, alternative energy, life sciences and homeland security and defense.

"It's very difficult to pick the right technologies and industries," said Lou Glazer, president of Michigan Future, an Ann Arbor think tank, and a former deputy director of the Michigan Department of Commerce. "Government doesn't know how to do that very well." More here.

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