|David Hollister leads the new Prima Civitas Foundation. Photo by Terri Shaver.
||Mark Stowers of MBI
is coordinator of the Lansing Regional SmartZone consortium board.Photo by Terri Shaver.
Author : Ann Kammerer
Two initiatives involving organizations throughout the area will
leverage the state’s history and resources to build an innovative
future in mid-Michigan. With Michigan State University as a key player,
the ventures will foster collaboration between industries and higher
education to commercialize research and catalyze Michigan business in
the role of the university to be a lightning rod,” said MSU President
Lou Anna Simon. “Nationally, you see more higher education business
partnerships being the framework around which economic development is
going. Government is a part, but it’s the private sector-educational
alliances that have had the greatest impact.”
The Prima Civitas
Foundation and the Lansing Regional SmartZone represent two such
alliances focused on attracting high-tech businesses and strengthening
the economic big picture for citizens in a post-industrial,
Prima Civitas Foundation
There’s a small iron weight on David Hollister’s desk that holds more than paper.
the Wicked Witch of the West,” said Hollister as he points to the
iconic black hat atop a crumpled cape. “She’s, of course, from the
Wizard of Oz.”
But for Hollister, that knickknack with the words
RUST BELT emblazoned on the base symbolizes why he’s tackling his
newest challenge in Michigan’s economic development.
trying to melt this image, to destroy this image of Michigan as the
Rust Belt,” said the former mayor of Lansing and former director of the
Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth. “I come at that every
As president of the Prima Civitas Foundation,
Hollister is committed to transforming mid-Michigan’s economy into one
of the most innovative in the world.
To do that, he’ll draw on
education, business and government leaders--and the vision of MSU
President Simon--to redefine the role of the land grant college to a
world grant institution.
“Prima Civitas means first city, first
state, first community,” said Hollister. “It’s a regional nonprofit
that’s business directed, engages the university, and serves as broker
for the university.”
Although housed in a former Lansing
elementary school, Prima Civitas will push beyond the boundaries of
neighborhoods, municipalities and cities to what Hollister said is key
to Michigan's survival: regionalization--and in this case, the
As defined by Prima Civitas, the
mid-Michigan region has a northern most point of Mt. Pleasant, extends
east to the Thumb, and cuts a wide swath south to the state line.
Excluding metro-Detroit, the region is anchored by Flint, Lansing,
Midland and Saginaw, represents 13 counties, and is home to 2 million
Prima Civitas was launched in spring 2006 in response to
a nationwide study that examined thriving communities around the world.
The common elements discovered among landmark communities were engaged
universities and business-led revitalization programs.
the lead of other public-private partnerships such as Ann Arbor’s SPARK
and Grand Rapids’ The Right Place, Prima Civitas aims to advance
innovative economic development, commercialize university research,
train and retrain Michigan’s workforce, and transform the region’s
“When you talk to a person in Shanghai, or in southern
California or in Texas, you should be able to say with enthusiasm, if
you want a problem solved, if you want something made, if you want
something manufactured, created or designed, there’s only one place in
the world that you’ve got to be,” said Hollister, “and that’s
mid-Michigan. We’re innovative. We’re entrepreneurial. We have a
history of getting things done.”
Hollister said that
mid-Michigan is uniquely positioned to compete in a post-petroleum
economy, replete with biobased industries. The university’s expertise
in plant, animal and biobased sciences, the state’s natural resources,
and an industrial infrastructure combine to create a “sweet spot,”
Hollister claims, that can take off exponentially in the next three to
“Stanford, MIT, Wisconsin, the University of
Illinois . . . they crank out 100 or more new companies a year,”
Hollister said. “MSU [has produced] about 27 over the last couple
The job of Prima Civitas, Hollister said, is to work
with university scientists to take “miraculous, mind-blowing things”
and launch them into successful business ventures. The model to follow,
he said, are companies like the Lansing-based Neogen, which spun off
from crop science safety into a prosperous food- and animal-safety
Prima Civitas’ efforts to spin off research and to
prepare workers for a biobased economy will be supported by private
dollars and by one of 13 grants awarded nationally by the U.S.
Department of Labor. The three-year, $15 million Workforce Innovation
in Regional Economic Development Grant (WIRED) will be supervised by a
steering committee called the Mid-Michigan Innovation Team, and
coordinated through Prima Civitas.
“Part of what we see with
Prima Civitas is an organization we can put together that will help us
go faster and further,” said Simon. “Nationally, you do that through
these kinds of university-business type initiatives . . . putting the
new line in the old line to get people focused on what they can do.”
Lansing Regional SmartZone
next generation of entrepreneurial revolutionaries will receive further
encouragement to stay or locate in Michigan through the opening of the
Lansing Regional SmartZone.
Closely linked to MSU and
coordinated by the Michigan Biotechnology Institute, the last of the 11
SmartZones administered through the Michigan Economic Development
Corporation intends to commercialize ideas, patents and various
research and development efforts. The Lansing Regional SmartZone will
include the area in and around the University Corporate Research Park
and portions of Downtown Lansing and East Lansing.
“Part of our
charter is to develop and commercialize in the biotech area,” said MBI
President Mark Stowers of the 21-member consortium charged with
attracting businesses in life sciences, advanced manufacturing and
information technology. “We operate the only incubator and technology
accelerator in the area, so it’s a natural fit for us.”
MSU and MBI in the SmartZone are the cities of Lansing and East
Lansing, Ingham County, Lansing Community College, the Lansing Regional
Chamber of Commerce, the MSU Foundation, and the University Corporate
Among the dozen or more businesses receiving
assistance in the Lansing SmartZone through MBI’s business incubator
are those in alternative fuels, nanotechnology and power electronics.
the inception of SmartZones in 2002, more than 315 businesses have
located or expanded in the zones, resulting in more than 4,500 jobs and
$600 million in private investment.
“There’s a lot of interest
in applying the engineering and manufacturing skill that Michigan is
famous for to new technology fields,” said Stowers. “We’re not sure
that there’s a sunset. This is something that will go on.”