SmartZone marks 10th anniversary

HOUGHTON – Ten years, 350 jobs and countless ideas after the MTEC SmartZone launched, local, state and federal officials came together Monday to celebrate where it’s been and where it’s poised to go.

MTEC SmartZone CEO Marilyn Clark was joined by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, State Sen. Tom Casperson, State Rep. Scott Dianda and Michigan Technological University President Glenn Mroz.

In the late 1990s, Snyder said, he had been concerned Michigan wasn’t being innovative or entrepreneurial enough. He later became chair of Michigan Economic Development Corp., which launched the SmartZone concept in 2000.

“That’s why, personally, it’s really exciting to be here today, to see an idea that I can say I had some part of helping create, to see it be a living thing,” he said. “And not just a living thing. It’s got 10 years of life, that’s made a tremendous difference in Michiganders’ lives.”

Houghton, Hancock, Michigan Technological University and the Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance came together in 2003 to start the local SmartZone. Through the incubator, high-tech start-ups get facilities and other resources to build their businesses.

In the past decade, that’s meant $4 million in building grants, $3 million in program grants, $500,000 in client funding and businesses across four incubator sites.

“If you put that in a community four times as large as ours, that would be a big impact,” said Tech President Glenn Mroz. “But when you take a look and see what happened in the last census, Houghton County was one of three counties in Michigan that showed an increase in population, so there’s got to be an effect there.”

Dianda thanked Clark and Mroz for bringing new business to the area. It provides a way to keep students who have fallen in love with the area.

“No matter where they’re from, they want to be able to reside with us, do a business and enjoy what we have here,” he said.

The area has a reputation that goes beyond the four-county area, or even North America. Stabenow recalled an overseas trip to Brazil where they discussed Tech as a destination for Brazilian engineering students. And on Casperson’s fact-finding trip to the Middle East, most of the American-educated engineers he encountered had gone to Tech.

“This is one of those things that make Michigan great, and it’s fun to watch this unfold,” Casperson said. “I see Michigan coming back and coming back strong.”