People love a comeback, and it’s the type of story – gratefully and rightfully – being told in spades around Detroit and the automotive industry, these days. Another storyline generating buzz is that around Michigan’s emerging venture capital ecosystem. And it’s not an exaggeration to say our tourism industry is killing it, with 2013 the most economically successful year for Michigan tourism ever, thanks in large part to the state’s massively resonant Pure Michigan campaign. Investors, businesses and politicians are excited about an economy that’s rebounding against many odds, and we at Airfoil get it. Strategic invention – and reinvention – is what we know best.
With its rich legacy of enterprise, entrepreneurialism and innovation, Michigan was the likeliest unlikely place to have launched a woman-owned technology PR firm. Opening our doors in 2000, we were both born of the dot come era and threatened by its implosion shortly after starting up. But we thrive under pressure, and have flourished despite economic challenges of both our headquarter state and the industry whose businesses we represent.
The key to prospering in the face of adversity? The belief that a great idea is worth the work. Airfoil stayed in metro Detroit when the region faced economic collapse and doubled down our Michigan investment by continually growing our staff and our local client base. We believed in the potential of a region saturated with advanced manufacturing and transportation technology know-how. We followed our intuition that the auto industry could be a new frontier for tech innovation and growth. And we identified synergies between who we were – Motor City-born and bred entrepreneurs – and what we loved – technology. It’s so rewarding to see a return on the investment.
Sidestepping the small stuff and staying focused on achieving our big-picture vision has always been a key strength of ours. Similarly, leaders behind the automotive industry’s reinvention and the State’s venture capital success are also laser-focused on their missions, not the minutiae.
For example, a 30-year strategic plan has been put in place to further elevate Michigan’s status as a global automotive industry leader. Nigel Francis, the industry veteran charged by Gov. Rick Snyder with the plan’s execution, has noted the importance of staying true to long-term goals, not short-term fixes. At the Society of Automotive Engineers’ 2014 World Congress, Francis shared that his team secured a global company’s interest by promoting potential long-term savings from building its plant in an optimal locale, as opposed to winning the business with incentives. “If they put it in the wrong place, their logistics cost will become a billion dollars over the lifetime,” he said. “When you look at a billion dollar decision, does it really matter that there’s $5 million or $7 million upfront? We must learn not to have those discussions.”
A look at Michigan’s VC success story is another study in strategic planning. Five years ago, Michigan had seven early-stage companies raise money from venture capital investors in the first quarter; in 2014, there were 31. Investments in a robust startup infrastructure laid the foundation for this growth, and they didn’t happen overnight – it’s a story more than a decade in the making. State and local leaders devised a policy to make early-stage investments more viable, and it (at last) paid off. “I’ve been involved with this since Michigan began its push in late 1999 or early 2000,” says Michael Finney, the president and chief executive of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. “Fast forward 14 years later and most of the strategies that we put in place are things that are really starting to bear fruit.”
And the 2012-2017 Michigan Tourism Strategic Plan, which lays the foundation upon which the state’s tourism will prosper over a five-year period, outlines goals that aren’t for the impatient. Public-private partnerships, industry advocacy and public policy influence are just some of the aspirations requiring steady relationship building, over time. But again, the work is worth it: in 2013, $13 million was spent on out-of-state advertising for Pure Michigan. In return, visitor spending generated $86.5 million in tax revenue received by the state, resulting in a return on investment of $6.66 – up from $5.76 in 2012.
Michigan’s comeback story energizes, excites and elicits incredible pride and confidence in us. But does it surprise us? No. Because the leaders behind our rejuvenated and emerging industries are thinking strategically, acting boldly, and proving they think Michigan is an idea worth working for.