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POLITICO: “Michgan hopes tech will help recovery”

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Mich. hopes tech will help recovery
By: Jennifer Martinez
January 6, 2011 04:36 AM EST

Michigan is best known for making cars, but the state’s technology sector is gaining clout thanks, in part, to local and national politics.

Michigan’s own Rep. Fred Upton has become one of the most powerful lawmakers on technology policy. As the new chairman of the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee, Upton plans to kick off his tenure by leading the charge of Republicans seeking to repeal the Federal Communications Commission’s Net neutrality order.

Another Michigan Republican, Rep. Dave Camp, is slated to chair the House Ways and Means Committee, which handles tax issues that affect large high-tech corporations and entrepreneurs. Tax incentives for small-business entrepreneurs and research-and-development tax credits will be among the items under Camp’s purview.

Michigan certainly won’t have the political pull of other tech-focused states such as California. But by attracting investors and entrepreneurs, it is hoping to generate a new tech-focused economy that will help cities like Detroit recover from the collapse of the auto industry.

“The state itself has been very aggressive and understanding of the importance of technology to an economy that needs help,” said Mark Heesen, president of the National Venture Capital Association. “If you look at folks coming into power, … there’s this understanding that technology for the state of Michigan and their districts is an important consideration.”

New state-run initiatives may be on the horizon now that a former tech executive is at the helm. Michigan’s new governor, Rick Snyder, previously served as president and chief operating officer of computer-maker Gateway and went on to start two venture-capital firms in Ann Arbor. He served as an interim CEO at Gateway in 2006.

Venture capitalists are particularly bullish about the growth opportunities for biotech, medical devices, clean tech and battery technologies.

Additionally, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office plans to build the agency’s first satellite office in Detroit this year, a move intended to help the agency tackle its backlog of more than 700,000 patent applications. The agency said it selected Detroit because of its proximity to major research universities, large community of scientists and engineers and high number of patent agents and attorneys.

Still, Michigan is far from becoming a tech powerhouse like California, said TechAmerica Executive Director Ed Longanecker.

“Silicon Valley is its own unique environment, and other areas aspire to have that same [venture-capital] environment and that same network of companies,” said Longanecker, who runs TechAmerica’s Midwest office. “It’s taken a long, long time to develop, and I don’t think Michigan [is] anything close to becoming Silicon Valley, but I certainly think there are some positive things happening that will help diversify their economy.”