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Missing ingredient for a local tech hub

In the last 10 or 11 years, since the onset of the Great Recession and a brain drain of millennials from the state, we're delighted to learn that large areas of southeast Michigan are growing as hubs of technology and innovation, countering that drain of talent, and drawing research, jobs and financial investment. Technological knowledge, creativity, innovation, talent and artistry are all prized attributes of entrepreneurs and employees, and are being successfully used to grow companies larger, and to develop smaller businesses that feed on one another.

Tech hubs are physical spaces, whether a city, suburb, university, or just a suite of offices, which have developed as an environment conducive to the growth of technological startup companies. In and around southeast Michigan, tech hubs have grown in downtown Detroit, midtown Detroit, Corktown, Rochester Hills/Auburn Hills, Farmington Hills and Ann Arbor. Tech hubs also grow when there is an economic environment that is supportive, offering shared workspaces and affordable housing.

When looking at the list of tech hubs, we note the lack of inclusion of Birmingham – with its plethora of educated, inquisitive and creative individuals. While several downtown Birmingham offices are occupied by members of the creative class – advertising agencies, social media firms, public relations firms and others populating the area – it would be exciting to witness – locally – the burgeoning of what is being referred to as Industry 4.0 – the fourth Industrial Revolution.

A necessary component to bringing in a younger, technologically-minded workforce is to create and offer more affordable residential options, so that in a municipality that has developed a thriving walkable downtown, has excellent public and private schools, low crime, and high quality of living standards, there is an organic hub which develops in Birmingham, with workers that choose to live, work and play in the city.

It's a topic that has started to surface on occasion at city government meetings, with a concern that the city's effort to develop an even higher residential density in the downtown area is stymied when the only new housing on the horizon is the million dollar plus variety.

Birmingham has done an admirable job of planning for the future but the one missing ingredient is the more affordable housing element.

The city has laid the groundwork as a center of creativity but more can be done.

As Oakland County Deputy of Economic Development Mike McCready said, “Everyone wants to be in Oakland County because you can't recruit someone for an executive position to a small town without access to shopping, social life, freeways, good schools, neighborhoods, and to the calibre of talent that is here.” That also applies to drawing in the workers for tech and creative businesses.

The ingredients for the next creative and tech hub in Oakland County are in Birmingham. It's time to stir the pot, and add more affordable housing to the mix.

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