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Business Review Western MI
Business Review Western MI
Jobs Fund: Round 2 is on the way
(2008-02-27)
(wgvu) - Jobs Fund: Round 2 is on the way


Feb. 28, 2008g

By Mark Sanchez
marks@mbusinessreview.com

The state is planning a second round for businesses to compete for
funding through the 21st Century Jobs Fund, with the money this time
going directly to companies that are creating jobs.

Thirty million dollars would become available later this year
though, unlike last time, not to research universities and
not-for-profit organizations that garnered a large chunk of the funding
in the initial round.

Michigan Economic De vel opment Corp. CEO Jim Epolito recommends
directing this round strictly to private companies that can create jobs
quickly.

There are a lot of companies out there that really need money
now, Epolito said. We've got to retain these companies and
strengthen the companies that are here.

A state panel that oversees the Jobs Fund, the Strategic Eco nomic
Investment and Com mercialization Board, still needs to finalize
details. A meeting scheduled this week in Lansing was canceled, and the
board is to meet again March 12.

The MEDC hoped to issue requests for proposals for the next round of
funding by late March and make decisions in August, Epolito said.

Designed to diversify the state's economy, the $2 billion, 10-year
21st Century Jobs Fund previously awarded $126.3 million for 78
projects, with the funding split among private companies, not-for-profit
or ganizations and research universities.

Universities and not-for-profits combined got more than half the money
last time, and some criticism arose that universities got too much of
that funding. Epolito says that criticism did not play a role in
formulating the next round.

The Right Place Inc. President Birgit Klohs agreed with the plan to
steer the money this time only to private companies, and she welcomes
the next round as a way to sustain the momentum from the initial
funding.

For Michigan to continue to invest is critical, Klohs said. We
need to continue to lead.

About $400 million of the Jobs Fund has already been spent or
earmarked, Epolito said, including $109 invested in venture capital
funds and $95 million to create the Venture Michigan Fund to provide
capital to start-up and early-stage companies.

Another $12 million went to efforts to retain former Pfizer Inc.
personnel and resources in Michigan, including $3.4 million to turn a
former Pfizer facility in Holland into a bio research-and-development
center.

The state is required to spend $75 million of the Jobs Fund annually,
though not necessarily through business plan competitions.

Epolito, though, would like to see subsequent competitions beyond
2008.

We hope in the coming years to seed more money in this direction,
said Epolito, emphasizing the 21st Century Jobs Funds is a long-term
strategy to reposition the state's economy.
We have to think in terms of years and what we're going to do over
the next decade, he said.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm, in an interview last week, said Michigan has
the most aggressive diversification strategy in the nation.

About three-quarters of the money in Jobs Fund's first round went to
life sciences, which is one of four economic sectors targeted, along
with advanced automotive manufacturing, alternative energy and homeland
security.

Funding is awarded in the areas of basic and applied research,
commercialization and support services.

Life sciences is absolutely one of the areas Michigan has really
funded and will continue to fund, Granholm said.

Neither the state's enthusiasm for life sciences or its funding has
waned, she added, pointing to a new initiative under development
Invest Michigan.

Introduced in her State of the State address early this month, the
program aims to take less than one percent of the state's pension fund
and invest it to create a $300 million venture capital cache over three
years the third largest in the country, Granholm said.

Invest Michigan does not require legislative action, she explained, and
the state Treasury Department is investigating how to create the fund.

It will happen. We want to get the private sector involved, she
said, adding that she'd like much of it to be managed by
Michigan-based companies.

Associate editor B. Candace Beeke contributed to this story.
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