Southeastern Michigan: The Next Silicon Valley?

Over the past few years, we have heard quiet rumblings of how Michigan’s southeastern region is becoming one of the nation’s largest technology hubs and outpacing other technology hubs like Silicon Valley.  In fact, a report recently released by Automation Alley found that the greater Detroit, Michigan region is “securely positioned as a leading technology center.”

The 2012 Technology Industry Report Rust to Resurgence: Detroit Regional Technology Economy serves to benchmark southeast Michigan against other technology hubs across the U.S.  In the report, they compared “innovation indicators” such as patent activity and science, STEM education, technology establishments and technology employment.  Overall, the report found that southeastern Michigan ranks as one of the top technology centers in the nation and is “poised for technology-related growth that outpaces other leading tech hubs.”

Southeastern Michigan: Connectivity is Key
Southeast Michigan is uniquely connected to other major regions through interstates, intercontinental bridges, airports, and rail and water networks.  The region also has multiple connectors between the United States and Canada.  The U.S. border in Detroit, Michigan, had the second highest amount of U.S. NAFTA truck trade ($98.7 billion) in 2011.  Port Huron, Michigan, had the fifth highest amount with over $47.7 billion dollars of U.S. NAFTA truck trade.

Industry Employment and Establishments
The analysts looked at six sub-sectors of the technology industry: 1) advanced automotive; 2) advanced manufacturing; 3) chemical and material; 4) information technology; 5) life sciences; and 6) related and other technology.

In 2010, they found that metro Detroit had the highest concentration of technology jobs in the Midwest and technology jobs (210,984) accounted for 12.9 percent of the total 1.63 million jobs in the region. Additionally, the metro region had the second highest number of technology-industry business establishments (7,119 in 2012) in the Midwest, just behind Chicago, Illinois.

Patent Activity & STEM Education: Measurement of Innovation
A few strong indicators of how much innovation is possible in a region include the number of patents awarded and the number of STEM degrees completed.
Looking at the number of utility patents issued, metro Detroit had the third highest number of technology-class patents (2,783) compared to Chicago (2,933 patents). Automobile companies and suppliers like GM Global Technology Operations (1,388 patents), Ford Global Technologies, Lear, and Visteon received many patents in recent years.  Michigan colleges and universities were also awarded multiple patents with University of Michigan being granted 263 and Wayne State University with 41.

Southeastern Michigan is the home to 27 colleges and universities with STEM degrees. A STEM degree is an acronym for the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. With a growing number of technology-related jobs, it is essential to have strong STEM degree programs to produce an educated workforce.  According to the report, the region had the third highest number of STEM degree completions compared to the other 15 regions.

An Innovation Comeback
Looking back through Michigan’s economic development, we can see how innovation has played a large part. Just as Henry Ford used innovation to manufacture the Model T and invent the moving assembly line, the people of southeast Michigan will continue to innovate cutting edge technologies to position themselves as global technology leaders.

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