High tech is revitalizing Kalamazoo, Mich., after the polar vortex of Detroit's decline as the global automotive capital.
KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Technology has come to this small Midwestern town trying to retool for modern times.
I grew up here in the days when this state was driven by Detroit, then the capital of the automotive industry, the musical Mecca of Motown, and the home of the 1968 World Series champion Tigers.
But it's been tough times for a long time. Honda and Toyota ate Detroit's lunch, and more recently Hyundai and Kia have been nibbling at its breakfast, too. Detroit is now known as the poster child for municipal bankruptcy -- and not even a particularly well managed one.
Like the rest of the state, Kalamazoo got dragged down in Detroit's malaise. A cousin and a neighbor of mine worked in the vast General Motors plant here. It's been shut down for years, gradually getting back on its feet as a spruced up space for hire.
Kalamazoo had its own problems. It had its boom years riding the coattails of the Industrial Revolution as a paper-making town, a business that had mainly gone away now. Now I'm back on family business and I can see a few seeds strewn from the tech boom starting to sprout here.
My alma mater, Western Michigan University, built a whole new campus devoted to engineering, technology and research. A game developer makes its presence known in billboards around town, hoping to attract young talent. And a couple other media shops such as Kzoom have put down roots, trying to create businesses getting companies on Web video and social media sites like YouTube and Facebook.
WMU's new west campus is a bright spot for engineering and high tech in this corner of Michigan.
There are a few green shoots from the biotech boom growing here, too. The old Upjohn pharmaceuticals plant is still purring, now part of Pfizer. And Stryker has struck a little medtech gold, expanding to become one of the town's premier employers.
I hope to visit some of these spots and tell their stories when I come back in the spring for more family business. It's been a long hard winter, the hardest even the old timers here can remember. Kalamazoo helped put the term "polar vortex" into the national lexicon this winter.
But spring is coming. You can smell it on the occasional sunny day when the temperature nudges into the upper 40s and the snow starts melting, making its muddy mess along the banks of the Kalamazoo River. Something is starting to grow here again.
— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times