Google expected to return big results
For those whose first reaction to the announcement that Internet giant Google is locating in Ann Arbor was that it will bring additional collaboration with the College of Engineering and School of Information, U-M's vice president for research has a suggestion: Think bigger!
Stephen Forrest says although little is known at this time about Google's specific plan for the 1,000-job investment in the University's back yardother than that it will locate its click-through advertising unit, AdWords, herehe sees the opportunity for partnerships that span the campus.
"It's very early to tell. It's really hard to predict where they're going to end up. Google has very broad interests, and their interests are in surprising areas," says Forrest, who also is the William Gould Dow Collegiate Professor of Electrical Engineering.
"We're in a world where we digitize everything, and I think they really perceive themselves at the very forefront of this digital revolution, so it's good to be in a place where there is this rich and broad University. What's big on my mind, for example, is expansion of the art museum and the digital possibilities."
Google already has a small presence in Ann Arbor with an office of some 20 people involved in the project to scan and make available to the public the 7 million volumes in the University Library. It also is working with the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Science on satellite mapping.
Representatives of the popular Internet search engine and the governor, announced July 11 the plan for the company to locate in Ann Arbor, perhaps as early as this fall. Economic development leaders, lawmakers and others across the state declared the move a much-needed shot in the arm for Michigan's ailing economy.
"Google's arrival in Washtenaw County will be measured in terms of jobs, tax revenues, spin-off businesses and increased home sales," President Mary Sue Coleman wrote in a recent column published in the Detroit Free Press. "But just as important are the intangibles: a fifth-grader in Ypsilanti who now aspires to be a software engineer for Google, a venture capitalist who sees a Dexter start-up in a new light, a retired couple who decides to remain in Ann Arbor rather than move to the Sun Belt, because the community is just too vibrant to leave.
"Google's announcement marks an important turning point for our state, one that showcases the importance of collaboration and innovation as the economic model for Michigan's future," Coleman wrote.
Forrest says Google's presence in the community translates into an opportunity for the University to attract more of the brightest and best students and faculty. The investment, he says, is proof-positive that U-M is a great place to learn, teach and conduct research, and that Ann Arbor is a highly desirable community.
"Who wouldn't want to come here now because they know this is an entrepreneurial place?," Forrest says of the likelihood that Google's investment will help the University attract top-notch faculty. "Students around the world will see Michigan as an exciting place to be, so that will help us attract even better students, which, in turn, will help us do better research.
"It's quite exciting. Because Google is hereand it has been compared to the anchor store at the mallother high-techs will come. And those will surely do research with us," Forrest says.
U-M is working with a group of university, business, government and community leaders through an organization known as SPARK. Its goal is to triple technology jobs in the region by 2010, making the Ann Arbor area a hub for innovative high-tech companies. Additional information technology, telecommunications and biotech companies have invested in the area in recent months.
Google founder Larry Page is an alumnus of U-M and hails from East Lansing. His company is known for its laid back, yet highly productive and creative atmosphereone that local leaders say fits well with the Ann Arbor community.
"Google will bring a work ethic and style that is contagious, and we should figure out ways to help them get their mission done, and, in turn, help us get our mission done to attract the best to Michigan," Forrest says.