Hi Rick, I know what you mean. I lived in Pittsburgh in the late 1980s and watched as the city tore down the old abandoned steel mills along the river and built green areas that made for a business-friendly downtown. Or as they say in Pittsburgh, it was an effort to "redd up" "dahn tahn" Hope things continue to improve in Kalamazoo.
I, too, am a Kalamazoo native and WMU EE grad -- '83 when Dr. Moose, now the engineering school dean, was but a rookie prof. I grew up watching Checker Motors, Fisher Body, Shakespeare fishing equipment, Gibson guitars, PRAB robots etc. all fail or move away. My father was one of the earliest Ph.D chemists hired at Upjohn and he had an amazing run there. But, with the acquisition by Pharmacia, then Pfizer, his old lab and many others were shut down and the people let go. Yes, some manufacturing remains, but it is a far cry from the Upjohn of old. When I graduated from WMU I could have gotten a job at Upjohn doing embedded work or perhaps stayed in-state and gotten a job at one of the "big three." It was clear to me then that those weren't good choices for a long-term job, hence my move east. However, I visit Kazoo several times a year and love my home town. It was truly a great place to grow up. I hope that Stryker survives with the advent of new taxes on health care equipment manufacturers. I'm not holding my breath though. There are plenty of other countries where they can find talented workers and a more business friendly environment. The Kalamazoo Promise is a huge win for local public high school graduates going to college, but if Stryker pulls up stakes I wonder if that would continue?
I'm also a Bronco, BS, Mathematics, 1975. My father helped build that Fisher Body plant, as well as several of the buildings on campus dating from the early 60's.
Kalamazoo has always had a good technological base, particularly in the automotive and biological arena, as has already been mentioned. And Western's aircraft mechanics curriculum was tops in the country.
But way back then, there was no engineering school, no accredited curriculum. What we had was "engineering technology" degrees. When I got my first embedded position, it was with Clark Equipment, in Battle Creek and all my peers had education or basic science (physics or mathematics for example). There wasn't a EE or ME to be had and my friends who were pursuing those kinds of degrees were generally going to Michigan Tech in Houghton.
Now Western has a decent Engineering department, with state of the art facilities and should be able to hold their own with any school in the area. What the area still needs is companies to come in and utilize these graduates. I know there are still a few companies in the area (Eaton comes to mind) but, in many ways, K'zoo is only a shadow of its former self.
Hey, native Kazoos. (Including Rick.) You mentioned Gibson Guitars but what was their old factory still remians in the form of Heritage Guitars. I'm told some of the old luthiers didn't want to move and somehow worked out a deal with the Tennessee bound Gibson on patents. Heritage then start producing similar but not original "Gibson" products under Heritage Guitars. So the story goes. Or does it?
I ask because years ago when I thought that buying a Heritage guitar might be a way of getting a fine "Gibson" instrument - crafted buy the original luthiers - without actually having to pay the Gibson premium, I ran into a whole lot unfamiliarity out there. Two sales people (young ones, albiet) at a Lansing music store didn't even know who they were. This was only to be outdone buy the inneptitude of Heritage's own sales and marketing department, but that's another story.
So just for long-awaited closure, can either of you tell me you've recently seen Gibsons original - and Heritage's (maybe?) current building? And if so, is anyone turning on the lights and making guitars?
Tech Injections: East Cambridge is on fire right now with both tech and biotech companies! From a recent article in the Boston Business Journal: "When angel investor Jay Batson visualized the density of Boston startups on a virtual map he created, he was surprised to find a resemblance to the tech scene in Silicon Valley." http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/blog/startups/2014/03/map-of-boston-startups-reveals.html
In San Francisco Bay Area, tech sector is being blamed for pricing most non-tech workers and lower income people out of the housing -- and even the apartment rental -- market. Kalamazoo sounds enticing just for that reason...cheaper real estate. But again, there is that polar vortex issue and hot summers, etc.
As far as I know Heritage is still in business at the old Parsons Street factory that Gibson used to run. I don't know if they use the entire facility or just part of it since they are a small operation. I know they used to build acoustics and electrics but at some point I think they dropped the acoustics. They don't adverstise much, preferring word-of-mouth. While I have an old Kalamazoo Gibson Les Paul Signature semi-hollow body, I don't have any exposure to Heritage. I've read they are pretty good though.
@C.VanDorne: I poked my head into the old Gibson plant a couple years ago (I am a fingerpicking folkie).
It's mainly an empty shell with the Hertiage shop occupying a small part of it. I'm not enpugh of an afficianado of guitars (though I love my Taylor) to compare Heritage and Gibson except to say it looks like there's not as much energy around the old place as there once was.