Fifty of Michigan’s fastest-growing second-stage companies — the gazelles of the state’s business community — are going to take part in an “economic gardening” program this year.
The new economic development effort is focused on helping businesses already in Michigan with a high potential for job growth.
This new program to change the way the state grows businesses and, by implication, jobs has a fan in Gov. Rick Snyder. He again championed the gardening approach today during the 2012 National Economic Gardening Conference, a daylong seminar at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in downtown Grand Rapids.
Economic gardening is an effort to help the CEOs of high-growth second-stage companies take their businesses to the next level.
Littleton, Colo., economic developer Chris Gibbons, creator of the gardening concept, told the audience that this approach is a more effective way to create jobs and build a community’s wealth than “economic hunting.” That model, used by Michigan and other state and local governments for decades, offers millions of dollars in tax credits to attract businesses into a state and help the biggest of the businesses already there expand.
That is something Snyder never has liked.
“Tax credits are dumb,” Snyder said today during his keynote address. “They are really the heroin drip of government.”
Attendees of today’s conference — 185 people from nine states including Michigan, along with economic development officials from Australia and Japan — heard the results from an Michigan Economic Development Corp. pilot economic gardening program that paired 50 second-stage company CEOs with consultants from the Cassopolis-based Edward Lowe Foundation.
A second-stage company is defined as a business with 10 to 99 employees and $1 million to $50 million in annual sales. One of the businesses that fit that criteria and made it through the pilot program is Atomic Object, a 34-person software developer based in Grand Rapids.
CEO Carl Erickson told the audience that as he was speaking, his company was opening an office in Detroit. That expansion, he said, was aided by his experience in the economic gardening pilot program.
“Last year we were at about 30 people and were saying ‘no’ too often to clients,” Erickson said. “The question was how to expand and accommodate our clients without screwing up what we had going.
“We got helping on validating our business plan, generated some great suggestions for improving our marketing and looked at what went wrong with similar-sized businesses.”
Atomic Object is actively recruiting, with a goal of hiring 20-30 people for the Detroit office, he said.
MEDC Project Manager Nicole Whitehead said second-stage CEOs who would like to be in the economic gardening project that begins in July should apply at local economic development offices as soon as possible.
By: Rod Kackley, Crain’s Detroit Business