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Wednesday May 24, 2017
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Island Hopping

 

continued

"High-Tech Valhalla" begins with an extended account of that trip. Starting in the office parks and shopping centers on I-94, he passes through central campus, then moves on to the north side. Shadowed by security vehicles as he walks the boundaries of the Pfizer complex, he grows dispirited: "High-tech Ann Arbor," he writes, "is your punk rock buddy who grew up and went to work for a bank."

By the time the book was published, of course, the punk-rock buddy was out of work: Pfizer had closed its entire complex, eliminating 3,200 jobs. Ann Arbor's one great example of university-driven economic development was gone.

Gumprecht couldn't help the timing. Still, he won no fans in the economic development establishment by including a persuasive explanation of why college towns, for all their intellectual power, rarely spawn major companies: U-M grad "Larry Page could have started Google in Ann Arbor," he writes, "but it is doubtful the company could have recruited enough workers there to grow as fast as it did."

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