Entrepreneurs and investors across the country frequently discuss issues related to building capital, community, talent, and research. However, one element left out of the conversation regarding building a stronger entrepreneurial and investment community is infrastructure. MVCA guest blogger, Rich Sheridan, CEO of Ann Arbor-based software company Menlo Innovations, would like the State of Michigan to consider investing in passenger rail transit in our region.
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If we believe that economic activity lifts a region, a state, a nation, I would like to make an impassioned plea to our leaders for increased attention on infrastructure, particularly as it relates to transit. I’m sure I am like every other Michigan resident who yearns for better roads and safer bridges. The reduced wear and tear on my family’s cars are worth the additional investment in smooth roads.
This written plea, though, is for increased attention to mass transit, particularly passenger rail between major economic centers in the Midwest. My company would grow, hire more people, and pay more taxes if the “friction” of transit is reduced. If I could move easily and effortlessly between Ann Arbor, Detroit, Chicago, Lansing and Grand Rapids our business would expand. As CEO of a growing tech firm, I need to be in face-to-face contact with customers and potential customers. There is no substitute for eye contact, conversations over coffee, and a hearty handshake. Email and Skype can’t replace human contact when it comes to building the type of relationships that lead to lasting business relationships.
My job as CEO of Menlo Innovations has me working 50 to 60-hour work weeks for 16 years. I love the work, so it doesn’t seem onerous, but time is my most precious commodity. Travel costs loads of time. For example, traveling from Ann Arbor to Chicago takes four hours door-to-door regardless of mode: plane, train, automobile. Four hours there, four hours back. For a two or three-hour meeting, that is a heavy investment, and of course, not all of those investments pay off, or at least not right away. I don’t need to be the one in every conversation with a client, but the first contacts are often best made by me. I am the Rain Maker for my company. Comparing the effectiveness of each travel option yields an obvious choice: passenger rail. When I get on the train from Ann Arbor to Chicago, my round-trip commute time reduces from 8 hours to 20 minutes. Why? Because I can comfortably work the entire trip. Every. Single. Minute.
There is no comparison. When driving, all of my attention in on the road, and I arrive tired from the drive. When I fly, I have at most about 20 minutes of productive time during the commute. I recently visited a colleague in Chicago and told him I can come any day that I have set aside for writing my second book as it subtracted zero minutes from productive writing time. I took the morning train to Chicago and arrived just before Noon. Four hours of answering email and writing a book in a pleasant, comfortable and productive atmosphere with my music playing and the scenery of Michigan passing me by, sometimes at 110MPH. I arrived safe, rested, and accomplished and ready for my 4 hours of meetings and presentations. I was then back on the train home that evening for my work and relaxing. I was in bed at my normal time. The commute cost me nothing in regard to my time.
When our legislators consider investing in passenger rail transit in our region, I would ask that they consider the payoff in higher employment, more productivity, and higher tax revenue due to this increase economic activity. My company would grow faster; our increased staff would buy more homes, put more children in our schools, recreate in our beautiful state and Michigan would be a destination for occupation, avocation, and vacation.