University of Michigan economists, local business leaders: Tech industry will lead job resurgence

Posted on March 20, 2014

High-tech jobs will continue to be the driver in the Washtenaw County economy over the next three years, a University of Michigan economist said Wednesday during  a presentation of the 29th annual Washtenaw County economic outlook report.

Washtenaw County is poised to add nearly 12,500 jobs over the course of three years from 2014 to 2016, said George Fulton, who, along with fellow U-M economist Don Grimes, compiled the report about the county’s economy.

Nearly 200 people showed up to the Washtenaw Community College Morris Lawrence Building Wednesday afternoon to hear Fulton’s presentation during a Washtenaw Economic Club luncheon.

Fulton said tech jobs are continuing to grow in the wake of the county’s decreasing manufacturing sector. He said that in 1990, manufacturing made up 19.7 percent of Washtenaw County’s economy, while that figure was just 7.6 percent in 2013.

The professional and business services sector, which includes most of the region’s technology companies and consulting firms, is expected to add 2,535 jobs through 2016, fueled by rapid growth at smaller companies.

WCC’s president, Rose Bellanca, and Guy Suter, the owner of the Ann Arbor tech company Nutshell, both spoke as panelists at the event. The two backed up Fulton’s data about the rise in tech-based jobs across the county.

Bellanca pointed out the fact that WCC recently received a $2.9-million grant called Intentionally Growing New Information Technology Employees, or IGNITE. The funds have allowed the college to develop new IT programs specific to the needs of area employers, while using new methods to train the students with those skills.

“The way we address the job trend in the county…we work very closely with the industries that are working with the universities as well and in that case the university becomes almost like the client we serve to get our students through that funnel so they can be prepared for those higher level technology jobs,” Bellanca said.

“We also are very cautious in terms of the programs we promote for students because we want to make sure that students know that when they’re through with this training, they’re going to be able to get a job.”

Suter, who was Barracuda’s general manager at its Ann Arbor office, said that he helped grow the company’s downtown presence from 15 people to more than 250 people in just five years because of the growing demand for tech talent in the area.

His current companies – Nutshell and Lift Me – will also be growing, as Suter plans to increase his staff by 50 percent this year.

“(Wages) are super competitive especially in this are because there’s a lot demand for technologists….Starting right out of college you’re usually looking at anywhere form $60,000 to $70,000s for software development jobs,” he said.

“When you get up there down to the more senior roles, you get up around $100,000. They’re really good salaries and it’s really competitive. Businesses have to be competitive to attract the right kind of talent.”

The third panel speaker was Sherri Enright, the human resources leader for Domino’s Pizza, a company with close to 11,000 full-time employees and nearly 11,000 locations worldwide.

Enright said that even the food industry is turning more toward tech-focused jobs in order to continue to grow. More than 50 percent of Domino’s full-time workers at it’s world resource center at its global headquarters in Ann Arbor have technology-related jobs. Some of those jobs center on business intelligence and data insights.

“We are doing cutting edge, Silicon Valley-type work in Ann Arbor…. We haven’t had a lot of difficulty recruiting that talent because of the environment in Washtenaw County and the great resources that we have,” she said.

“You can find a lot of really great talent who wants to live here because of the great things like the schools and the communities and the great opportunities.”

Aside from tech jobs, private education and health services; and trade, transportation and utilities are expected to lead the charge for the expected 12,500 jobs that are projected for the region.