Michigan’s manufacturing past is fueling its tech future

Michigan’s struggles have played out on the world’s stage. Just after the turn of the century began what’s referred to as the state’s lost decade, the economy faltered, oil prices skyrocketed and the housing market crashed. Nearly a million jobs left the state between 2000 and 2013, many of them in manufacturing and the automotive industry. For a state of just under 10 million people, the impact was devastating: Unemployment was higher than the national average by more than four percent.Bailouts for Chrysler and General Motors were followed by Detroit’s record-setting municipal bankruptcy, but through grit and determination, Michigan started clawing its way back from the brink. Now multimillion-dollar investments in the city from tech titans like Amazon, Facebook and LG make headlines with startling frequency, and a host of tech startups have begun to fill the gaps left by plant closures.

On the state’s west side lies Grand Rapids, where 20 percent of the area’s residents are employed in manufacturing jobs, twice the national average, according to a recent report from the Los Angeles Times. The median wage for such workers? About $30,000 per year — enough for a single person but hardly enough to raise a family. A recent wage survey found machinists in the region averaged $41,710 per year, around half that of software and application developers.

Manufacturing is changing, and assembly line jobs are increasingly being handled by robots. Where humans were once doing the physical labor themselves, they’re now supervising several machines at a time or operating as quality control. As time goes on, more areas of low-skill labor will be taken over by artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation in what’s being labeled the fourth industrial revolution.

“When you walk through a plant, there are going to be very few humans on the floor, but there’s going to be hundreds of people that are high-tech [trained], maintaining all those systems, because they’re not stupid systems that are just stamping out metal parts,” said Tom Kelly, executive director of the Michigan-based nonprofit Automation Alley. “Michigan is poised extremely well to play in that space, because we know how to make things. We know how to make things high quality, cheaply, quickly. All the things you want, and at volume.”

The bottleneck is talent.

Motown was a different place when Damien Rocchi relocated from Australia eight years ago. Among regions with more than a million residents, Detroit’s unemployment rate ranked highest in the nation, with 16.7 percent of people in the metro area jobless. The city hadn’t replaced streetlights rendered useless by copper thieves during the Great Recession either, so many of Detroit’s pockmarked avenues and seven-lane roads were pitch black come nightfall. That September, the FBI reported Michigan’s violent crime rate was 10 percent above the national average. Things were desperate.
Damien Rocchi

Rocchi kept himself busy with consulting work and in time met folks from Detroit Venture Partners who introduced him to the Detroit tech scene and the investments Quicken Loans founder and chairman Dan Gilbert was making downtown. Like many others interviewed for this piece, Rocchi moved to Michigan because of preexisting ties (his wife wanted to be closer to her parents).

“The idea was to train Detroiters in some new economy skills, the skills that had become increasingly difficult for companies to fill.”

In early 2013, Rocchi launched Grand Circus to address the imbalance between talent supply and demand that plagued the region. “The idea was to train Detroiters in some new economy skills, the skills that had become increasingly difficult for companies to fill,” he recalled. Rocchi said it was absurd that there was a huge base of people in the area who were either unemployed or underemployed, considering the number of jobs that needed to be filled in the space. The hurdle was educating them in a way that was both efficient and expedient.

By July this year, the organization had trained 2,618 students via boot camps that cover a range of subjects, from software and web development to coding and software testing. Each 10-week class costs $8,500. Students in these micro-credential programs — which offer specialized training certificates — fall between 24 and 45 years old, with class sizes varying between 16 and 22 students per session.

For comparison, two full-time semesters at Detroit’s Wayne State University cost $9,533 while Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids is $11,994. Here’s the difference that helps justify the expense: Within three months of graduating, 93 percent of Grand Circus alumni have jobs in their respective fields of study. That might explain both why enrollment numbers have climbed steadily and why Grand Circus expanded 160 miles west to Grand Rapids, operating out of the Start Garden startup accelerator.

“We want to become the one-stop shop for technical talent in Michigan,” Rocchi said. “We think we have what it takes to train people and take them from zero [skills] to entry-level software development jobs.”

These micro-credentials will shape the future of work, according to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center and Elon University. Pew says that within a decade, education systems “won’t be up to the task” of adapting to train or retrain the most prized skills for the future. And while a four-year degree will still be important, tangible proof of competency like a portfolio of completed projects and “alternate credentialing systems” — like the ones Grand Circus offers — may be just as accepted.

“Three-dimensional materials — in essence, job reels — that demonstrate expertise will be the ultimate demonstration of an individual worker’s skills,” Marilyn Krieger, a career specialist from Indiana University Bloomington, said in the report. “The educational and training programs of the future will become (in their best incarnations) sophisticated combinations of classroom and hands-on training programs.”

Facebook approached Rocchi earlier this year after hearing about the workforce development that Grand Circus was doing around Detroit. Like these things tend to, the conversation stalled and then before the announcement this June, ramped up quickly. Before Rocchi knew it, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was standing in his office telling a crowd that the social network would offer scholarships for 25 Michiganders to pursue training certificates. Rocchi said that it’ll be a traditional boot camp, with students split between Grand Rapids and Detroit, and it’ll feature some customized curriculum to incorporate Facebook-specific activities. The partnership also involves Digital Promise, a tech nonprofit with a focus on education, which will help train 3,000 Michiganders in social media marketing. All told, it’s a $25.5 million investment in Michigan’s workforce.

“When we can find a great local partner like this that we can partner with to help provide the training people need and we can bring them what we know,” Sandberg told Crain’s Detroit Business, “it’s just a great opportunity for us to develop people who will go to do great work with Facebook and other local companies.” The scholarship is the first of its kind from the social network.

During Michigan’s lost decade, Quicken Loans’ billionaire founder Dan Gilbert took advantage of Detroit’s empty builds and low land costs. He began buying property in and courting talent to downtown Detroit before moving Quicken Loans’ headquarters and 1,700 employees from nearby Livonia to downtown in 2010.Gilbert-related companies now control 90 buildings downtown, and the mogul has thrown over $2 billion at real estate and tech ventures. These include the M-1 Rail streetcar system (“Gilbert’s little choo-choo,” one source joked), which weaves through the burgeoning business district; an online stock market for sneakers; a symmetrical fiber-optic internet service that’s half the price of Comcast’s; and Rocchi’s Grand Circus. This February, Gilbert convinced Microsoft to leave the suburban location it had occupied for 30 years for his One Campus Martius building. People have begun referring to the sections of downtown he’s rebuilding in his own image as Gilbertville.

Along with the late Mike Ilitch, founder of Little Caesar’s and former owner of the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers, Gilbert has been one of the biggest driving forces in Detroit’s recovery. Not everyone is happy with his influence on Detroit though. “He just went further and harder than everyone else,” said a person from the tech community who wished to remain anonymous.

The source described a recent Detroit Demo Days hosted by Quicken Loans, with $1 million in capital up for grabs. If a company took first place from a field of 20 finalists, it would get a 48-month, $200,000 interest-free loan to move to downtown Detroit. The two teams that ended up winning were already located downtown: upscale barber shop The Social Club and vocational-education outfit the Detroit Training Center. “They’re essentially vendors that would raise Gilbert’s property value,” the source said.

“It’s kind of a spur for Detroit people to actually put their money to work in Detroit.”

That’s not to say Gilbert isn’t doing good in Motown. Sources said that Gilbert’s monopoly on downtown real estate is having a ripple effect that’s beneficial to the city. “It’s kind of a spur for Detroit people to actually put their money to work in Detroit instead of sitting in a hedge fund somewhere,” the source said. While Gilbert may be acting in self-interest, his interests often align with those of the city.

He’s a firm believer in technology’s ability to help Motown rise from the ashes. One example of this is the Cheese Factory, a Quicken Loans skunkworks program where employees pitch everything from new salad dressing for the cafeteria to wiring Detroit for ultra-high-speed broadband.

Rocket Fiber is a fiber-optic internet service that offers gigabit speeds. It’s “a story of not waiting for it to happen, not waiting for someone else to come here and hope they build it,” according to founder and CEO Marc Hudson. “It’s really a story of a Detroit, Michigan-based organization doing it on their own.”Hudson pitched the idea via the Cheese Factory in Jan. 2013 after reading how Google Fiber was attracting tech companies to Kansas City. After graduating from Michigan State University, he worked on his own web development startup and fell in love with downtown Detroit before working at Quicken Loans as a user interface engineer.

After the initial pitch Hudson got in contact with Gilbert directly, formed a team and began working on Rocket Fiber on nights and weekends before getting enough internal support to make it his full-time job. After a “long, two-hour meeting,” pitching the financial model and viability to Gilbert and his quasi Shark Tank, he got the green light.

The 1Gb service launched in May 2014 for $70 per month, with no service agreements or equipment-rental fees. Ten Gb service is $299 per month. The idea is that in its admittedly smaller service area, customers will be happy enough with their connection that they don’t need a contract to stick around. Comcast charges $139.95 per month without a contract or $70 per month with a three-year service agreement for speeds of up to 1Gbps.

Hudson wouldn’t go into specifics about subscriber numbers, but as of July he said that there were “several thousands” across 200 commercial and residential buildings downtown. Rocket Fiber is dubbed Detroit’s technology partner on billboards around the city. It’s providing internet service to the QLine streetcars and WiFi for the 65,000-capacity Ford Field, and it installed 10Gb service at the revamped Cobo Center convention hall. The latter is a bid to draw esports events and virtual reality exhibitions to the convention center, according to Crain’s Detroit Business.

“We want to fundamentally change this industry and make it more scalable and more automated so that companies like Rocket Fiber can compete with the larger entrenched companies,” Hudson said.

“It’s cool to say we’re not some company from out of state, from another city.”

He said that the idea was to be a “moonshot for Detroit” and that there was never an idea of going to another city. For him and his team, comprised of CTO Randy Foster and COO Edi Demaj, there wasn’t any interest in doing this anywhere outside the D. “It was always about taking care of our hometown and doing something really cool and fun here,” he said. “It’s cool to say we’re not some company from out of state, from another city. We’re a Detroit-headquartered company creating jobs in the city, employing Detroiters and building an internet infrastructure that exists in few other places.”

All of Rocket Fiber’s team members live in the metro area, and a “good number” of the company’s contractors do as well. Hudson has even managed to get local senior-level talent who had moved to Silicon Valley to come back home. Outside network engineers, designers and biz-dev folks poached from competitors, most of Hudson’s employees don’t have a background in telecommunications and are trained on the job.

Hudson described a new hire who’d never touched an Ethernet cable in his life but had a great attitude and was a good fit for Rocket Fiber’s culture. “Put me to work and I’ll learn,” the new hire told Hudson. He had started as an apprentice, shadowing experienced residential installers during his first week on the job. “They’ve been teaching him, and he’s just been soaking it up like a sponge,” Hudson said. Now he’s doing service installations.

For Hudson, it’s about creating opportunity, something the Motor City hasn’t always done. That doesn’t mean Rocket Fiber will open its doors and invite thousands of the city’s displaced automotive workers to start installing internet service; the company isn’t ready for that yet. But it can help on a smaller scale. “[We’re] trying to play a small part in creating opportunity here, because when opportunity is not equal, it leads to issues that I think Detroit is a pretty good case study of,” he said.

Jacques Panis, president of luxury watchmaker Shinola, agreed. For someone with no prior skills, it takes between two and four weeks to go from the first application to being an entry-level Shinola employee. One employee was a security guard in a past life. Now he’s leading the company’s movement-assembly team.

“The walks of life here are something that are absolutely incredible and really speak to what we have and why we have it,” he said. “It’s not just about you coming in here and having a specific skill set. It’s about you coming in here and having the ability to work with people and be a part of a team at a bigger picture and aligning with everyone here.”

Out west, the tech and startup scene is a little different. While Henry Ford was dreaming up assembly lines and the Model T, Grand Rapids, a quarter the size of Detroit, was a hub for the logging and furniture industries. The latter still holds sway in town; Herman Miller, Steelcase and Haworth all have headquarters there. The metro area also has a rapidly expanding medical-research scene, a number of well-regarded craft breweries and Amway’s global headquarters. Rather than assembly-line jobs, many of the automotive plants in town focused on stamping or tool-and-die making, like the 1,500-employee stamping plant that made sheet metal parts for GM trucks and SUVs that was shuttered in 2009 or Riviera Tool, which was acquired by Tesla in 2015.Unlike Detroit, the city is incredibly conservative, both socially and fiscally. The former comes from a predominant Catholic and Christian Reformed culture, with a combined quarter of residents identifying as either denomination in 2010. There’s a distinct irony in tourism boards calling the nearby Lake Michigan shoreline “Michigan’s West Coast” when the region is anything but liberal. In Detroit, Weedmaps billboards dot the highways; in Grand Rapids, it’s hospital advertisements with a photo of a Dutch wooden shoe on a prosthesis under “Keep on klompin!” Alcohol sales are restricted before noon on Sundays, when plenty of local businesses are closed all day. Finding anything to do after 10 PM that isn’t sitting at a bar is close to impossible. As in many Rust Belt towns, mom-and-pop shops reign supreme.

When Detroit fell, Grand Rapids merely stumbled. In 2009, unemployment hovered near 10 percent, a little over half of Detroit’s jobless rate. Even with its fiscal conservatism and diversity of businesses, though, numerous businesses downsized and closed, just not at the rate they did on the east side of the state.

This January, unemployment in Grand Rapids dropped to 3.1 percent.

Grand Rapids’ battles following the economic downturn were different than Detroit’s, Tim Mroz, vice president at The Right Place, said. “Our biggest challenge in 2012, 2013 and 2014 was that there was so damn much cash in the bank for these manufacturers that it was just sitting, waiting for something to do with it.”

That’s where Start Garden, the incubator founded by Amway heir and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ son Rick DeVos, comes in. The accelerator works to match tech startups with established local businesses like Steelcase as a way of marrying tech ideas with manufacturing. From its outset in 2012 until 2015, Start Garden offered $5,000 per week for a good startup pitch. On monthly Update Nights, previous winners would compete for an additional $20,000 in funding. One of its biggest early successes? Boxed Water Is Better, the purified tap water that comes in minimalistic paper cartons.

“That [funding system] was almost like us teaching ourselves what would really work here,” Start Garden Director Paul Moore said. Now Start Garden’s business model has changed.

“What started to become really clear was that we had these large enterprises that really needed to make a bridge into the startup community, [and] startups that wanted to bridge to them,” Moore said. “A small startup isn’t going to build up the capacity to build 30,000 pieces of furniture and ship them around North America from a facility every month, and that company that’s 100 years old isn’t going to just suddenly turn itself into a tech company overnight.”

Local investors don’t see the value in something that isn’t tied to manufacturing in some way. “If a young person were pulling together a Snapchat-like app, I don’t think this is the place for that,” Moore said. Michigan is known for making things and, for better or for worse, probably always will be. Local firms aren’t excited about an app for sending photos; they want something that’s tangible and plays to their logistic and production strengths.

“The whole concept of a unicorn is pretty lost on our culture.”

“We find that, oddly enough, that’s a really hard sell in a place like the Valley,” Moore said. That’s because the cultures are different. When someone in San Francisco dreams up a piece of hardware, the first thing that comes to mind are the year-plus shipping and production bottlenecks of dealing with China or Korea. Hence a focus on software. Michigan is the exact opposite. “The whole concept of a unicorn is pretty lost on our culture,” Moore said, laughing. “[Grand Rapids startups] aren’t like ‘ship it in three months to the cloud and you’re up and running’ kind of things.”

Here, industrial designers and engineers are familiar with the timeline and process of getting a manufactured good to market. Rent is going up, but compared to San Francisco, Boston or even nearby Chicago, it’s cheap enough that waiting a year or more for your product to come to market might not drain the bank account.

Start Garden director Darel Ross II

In addition to Grand Circus, Start Garden also hosts Seamless IoT, which describes itself as “the nation’s leading multi-industry, multi-channel proof-of-concept laboratory.” Seamless finds manufacturing and testing partners for low-energy Internet of Things gear — things like sensors that detect when a fire truck is near and deliver an alert to internet-connected cars and motorcycle helmets or sensors for tracking air quality. It’s something Darel Ross II, another director at Start Garden, thinks is a way for tech to help rebuild communities and serve the marginalized.

This June, Start Garden and Seamless announced a partnership with the city government to develop sensors and software for monitoring air quality. It could be seen as a response to the Department of Human Services and Environmental Protection Agency labeling a corner of the city’s low-income Madison Square neighborhood a Vapor Intrusion site. Last year the regulatory bodies found “dramatically higher than allowable” levels of probable carcinogens tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE) after the gasses seeped through cracks in foundations. The sensors will be made by Grand Rapids’ Open Systems Technologies and mostly placed on light poles in neighborhoods and near highways. The data will be open-sourced so apps like Breezometer can access it and give everyone a better idea of air quality in their neighborhood. It isn’t particularly sexy, but it’s essential for building a smart city.

“Tech has a unique way of solving a lot of community issues,” Ross II said.

Not everything tech-related in Grand Rapids involves Start Garden, and not everything in Detroit involves Dan Gilbert. The Right Place, a West Michigan business accelerator, recently lured data center company Switch to set up its $5 billion Eastern US data center in the confines of a nearly 660,000-square-foot, cement-and-glass pyramid. The quirky space served as Steelcase’s research-and-design headquarters for over two decades until the Great Recession forced the office-furniture manufacturer to sell it in 2010. The first-phase rollout began earlier this year, and the center is expected to employ up to 1,000 people within the next 10 years. The location currently handles data for Activision, Amazon, eBay, Google, Sony and others.”Simply by making that decision [to locate in Grand Rapids], it raised the tech landscape several levels that would have taken a decade or two to build on our own,” Mroz said. “We got a free ‘skip ahead 20 years’ card.” The possible ripple effect of Switch’s investment can’t be understated. There will be at least 150 full-time jobs there, and over 700 Michigan construction workers will be retrofitting the building over the next five years. “Almost 99 percent” of the workers on-site are Michiganders, a Switch representative said.

Everyone needs to eat and get to work, too, so restaurants and gas stations are bound to pop up as well. So far, Mroz said that a hotel has already been planned for the area. That’s in addition to the tech jobs that may be created from Switch’s mere presence. “If you’re a growing IT company and you’re going into data-managed services, what better thing to put in your marketing materials than to say, ‘We’re co-located X amount of miles from Switch’s East Coast data center?'” Mroz asked.

“Hopefully it’s a real attraction for tech companies and industry players to say they want to have their equipment there,” Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said.

This week Switch raised over $530 million for its IPO.

Finji co-founder Adam Saltsman

Adam Saltsman didn’t need a data center to get him to move from Austin, Texas, to Grand Rapids. What he needed was lower cost of living and a house where he could raise his young family. “We needed someplace that was more stable and less terrifying on as many axes as possible, because what we wanna do is make games,” he said. “That was more important than the admittedly extremely good breakfast tacos you can get there.” Saltsman is the director at Finji, an independent game studio and publisher with remote workers all over the globe. His most recent game is Night in the Woods, a coming-of-age tale about the way your hometown can change drastically while you’re away at college.

“We needed someplace that was more stable and less terrifying on as many axes as possible, because what we wanna do is make games.”

In 2016, before his eldest son started kindergarten, Saltsman; his wife, Rebekah; and their two boys made the 1,300-mile trek north. Saltsman and his wife are both from Michigan originally and wanted to be closer to family. He cited Austin’s rapidly changing housing market and cultural landscape as the key reasons for relocating after a dozen years. Since moving, he’s noticed that aside from avocados, everything in Grand Rapids is between 30 and 40 percent cheaper.

“If we paid off our mortgage, which was one of our biggest expenses, the rising cost of homes and property values would make the property taxes be as much as the mortgage we had just paid off,” he said. “You’re just signing up to be a renter there forever.” The house he bought for $330,000 in Grand Rapids doesn’t exist in Austin. Considering location and build quality, it would’ve cost around six times more in Texas, a financial planner estimated. But again, you’re more likely to run across a jackalope in Austin than find a house like this. “It’s just a really, genuinely well-made building,” Saltsman said. “It’s a house that was built to be lived in by a family, not be resold at a margin with some sort of weird, arbitrary features that the housing market currently favors.”

Next to its workforce and culture of innovation, comparatively inexpensive housing and cost of living are one of Michigan’s strongest selling points. Almost everyone interviewed for this piece said the same thing: The state isn’t doing enough to market itself. The Pure Michigan TV spots with Tim Allen voice-overs work to promote tourism outside the state, but there aren’t a lot of efforts being made to attract talent from the coasts for permanent residence. Once people get to Michigan and see what the state has to offer in terms of quality of life, their minds start to change. It’s getting them to consider Michigan that’s the hard part.

“The best way you can get somebody here is to have warm referrals,” Governor Snyder said. “People that have had experience here.” Shinola’s Panis agreed and has seen that in action himself. He described a New York couple who visited him over the Fourth of July weekend. The man holds a degree from Harvard, the woman a degree from Brown. “There are people that are highly successful, highly educated, highly in tune with the environment around them, and this is where they want to be,” he said.

People mistakenly think the state is under multiple feet of snow for half the year. Cindy Brown from Hello West Michigan, a nonprofit that works to educate and attract talent to the area, said that the biggest misconception she hears is that there’s nothing to do during the Mitten State’s infamous winters. “Every state has an indoor season,” Brown countered. “You’ll hear people in Arizona say that you can’t go outside until late at night because it’s so hot during the day; we are no different.”

“Make a fire in the house on the weekend rather than going out to the lake,” Panis said. “Get over it. Go build a snowman.” He relocated to Detroit from Texas in 2012 and said there’s nothing he can think of that’d make him want to leave Michigan.

Hello West Michigan started in 2010, but because of its nonprofit status, its reach is bound to a limited marketing budget. Brown stressed that Hello isn’t an employment agency; rather, it connects candidates with employers, specifically targeting spouses who may be moving with someone poached from the coasts. The companies it works with and receives funding from are the biggest employers in the 13-county region, but even then, money only goes so far and Brown has to be careful where she spends it. Billboards didn’t offer much of a return five years ago, so those stopped. Now the organization advertises at Grand Rapids’ Gerald R. Ford International Airport and on Facebook and LinkedIn.

The former hits people when they’re arriving and leaving while the latter offer inexpensive ways for her company to target the specific job seekers that local employers are looking for. Currently Brown is targeting IT professionals who’ve left for jobs in California to get them to rethink the area. If you’re considering coming back home, Brown said it’s her job to make sure you know you’re welcome and aware of how West Michigan has changed since you’ve left. “There’s nothing wrong with leaving, just as long as people know there’s an open door,” she said. “Try new things, but always know you can come back.”

This summer was one of the busiest Brown has seen in her six years with the company.

Grand Rapids and Detroit are the two biggest metropolitan areas in the state, so people naturally gravitate toward them. Tech can’t save small manufacturing towns that were devastated when industry left for cheaper climes like Mexico or China. Saginaw spent nine years as the most violent city per capita and has been wracked with hardships following closures of GM-related shops during the Great Recession. In July 2009, the 18-square-mile city’s unemployment topped that of Detroit’s, with nearly a quarter of the workforce out of a job. Unemployment has since dropped to 5.3 percent, but its population also fell by around 6,000.

And then there’s Flint, which needs no introduction. The city is still reeling from a lead-poisoned water supply, and unfiltered tap water won’t be safe to drink for more than two years. Lead levels recently dropped below the federal action level of 15 parts per billion, but there are still 20,000 lead and galvanized pipes carrying water in the city. Until those are replaced, filters will be a way of life. Or can tech fix that? Flint has pitched itself as one of the cities where Amazon could locate its second headquarters, and that $5 billion investment would go to a city that couldn’t need it more.

But the competition is fierce. Gilbert is putting together a pitch for Detroit, and his prowess at landing huge deals could be more attractive than what Flint could offer. Would Amazon set up shop in a city where its employees couldn’t drink or bathe in tap water?

Michigan is in the process of rebuilding itself. Again. Chrysler paid off its government debt in 2011, with GM following suit in 2014. That same year, Detroit exited bankruptcy in record time. Motown flipped the switch on 65,000 new streetlights last December. As of this April, statewide unemployment dropped to 4.7 percent. On paper, everything sounds like it’s on the upswing.The low unemployment numbers don’t tell the whole story, however. Unemployment stats only count those who are out of work and either seeking a job or are enrolled in training or education. If you aren’t looking or have a part-time job (or multiple part-time jobs), you aren’t counted as being jobless. Another factor is the workforce’s inability to pass drug testsand the growing opioid epidemic. Last year Michigan doctors wrote more opioid prescriptions than there were men, women and children in the state.

Where does the state go from here? Grand Circus’ programs continue to expand, but Rocchi said that classes are the size they are because it’s how the company keeps from flooding the market. If more people are graduating than can find jobs, his programs lose their appeal and the sizable investment from students becomes harder to justify. But Michigan will need more than his boot camps and Start Garden’s tech partnerships.

Around 14 percent of new jobs in the state come from the auto industry, but Start Garden’s Ross II argues that the likes of Ford, Chrysler and GM are transitioning from purely automotive companies to mobility companies. You can see this at the sprawling 500-acre driveline-assembly plant at Willow Run in Ypsilanti, which began life cranking out B-24 bombers during World War II under Ford’s control and is now being transformed into an autonomous-vehicle-testing complex for the likes of AT&T, Ford and Toyota. The facility broke ground late last year, and autonomous testing will start in December.

This new, tech-driven manufacturing also involves vendors outside the usual suspects, like LG for lithium-ion batteries made along the Lake Michigan shoreline in Holland or the planned $25 million EV-parts plant that will employ almost 300 in Detroit suburb Hazel Park.

The missing piece is people. People to help fill Detroit’s seven-lane city streets. People who will take the forward-looking manufacturing jobs being created. People willing to move from Austin to pursue their game-development dreams. People who start companies to fight Comcast head on for customers. People who will set up shop and train locals in new crafts. People working night and day to attract new talent to the state. People turning Michigan into a 21st-century manufacturing powerhouse. The kind of people who pulled the state through its lost decade.

“When things get hard, you reinvent yourself,” Start Garden’s Ross II said. “If I was a betting guy, I would bet on Michigan anytime.”

Source:-engadget

How free porn enriched the tech industry — and ruined the lives of actors

Journalist Jon Ronson describes his new podcast series, The Butterfly Effect, this way: “It’s about what constitutes a reputable person and what constitutes a disreputable person.”

More specifically, The Butterfly Effect is a four-hour, seven-part exploration of the impact of the tech industry on the porn industry. It’s about the way free porn sites, notably PornHub, have made it very hard for porn workers to make a living.

The music industry has gone through similar upheaval, but musicians get more sympathy than porn actors (and can make money doing live gigs), Ronson says.

In the podcast, Ronson interviews Fabian Thylmann, PornHub’s millionaire founder, along with a spectrum of sex industry performers and creators struggling to make ends meet. For instance, Ronson profiles Mike Quasar, a porn cameraman and director, who tells Ronson he’s powerless to stop his films from being instantly pirated online. (The volume of streaming sites and sharing methods makes it hard for porn companies, often strapped for resources, to fight piracy.) Some porn stars make niche custom videos — performing content in ways requested by specific fans, for a fee — in order to survive financially.

For two decades since Them, a best-seller on extremists, Ronson has been creating engaging, funny accounts of people on society’s margins. The Welshman turned New Yorker’s last book was So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, about the internet pile-ons against the likes of inappropriate tweeter Justine Sacco.

In a wide-ranging conversation — lightly edited and condensed — Ronson discussed porn’s future, Alex Jones, and legitimized bullying.

Alexander Bisley

So these sites like PornHub, which are stealing porn and giving it away for free, have wildly depressed the money available for productions and the fees the performers are able to get, right?

Jon Ronson

Yes. So a lot of people are making a lot less money and are working much, much longer hours to make that money. That’s happening a lot. Whereas the people in charge of PornHub are making so much money they don’t know what to do with it.

These tech people who’ve never set foot on a porn set in their lives, these optimizers and algorithm people and AB testers, these “respectable people” — they’re the ones who seem to be causing the most trouble [in] the lives of porn performers.

I saw time and time again, people [in the porn industry] would have to move from pretty nice houses to much smaller houses. Porn performers have to go into escorting to pay the rent. More and more producers are going out of business. So in many ways it’s decimating the San Fernando Valley, but the tech people are doing very well.

The tech takeover of the world isn’t being criticized enough. It’s having these seismic changes, and people tend not to think about it because they’re giving the world what it wants, which is free porn.

Alexander Bisley

What do you think the future of porn will be, given this seismic shift?

Jon Ronson

I was just reading a comment on Slate that addressed this question. The commenter — Allen Garvin — wrote, “Dirty magazines are dying, porn shops are dying, mainstream porn video companies are dying (or else getting into extreme fetishes). People that go to porn conventions or show up at strip clubs to see specific porn actresses are getting older each year, with young men failing to replace them because they get their porn for free.”

I think all that’s true. So what will take its place? Amateur porn shot on cellphones. Some of those people will get deals with PornHub, and the like, where they’ll make some money from clicks, but it’ll be a fraction of what they would have made in the pre-streaming days.

And the people who built the industry? Some will move into customs and niche fetish stuff; most others will just vanish away into the ether.

Alexander Bisley

One of PornHub’s tech guys, exploiting performers’ work, boasted to you: “I’m not a piece of garbage, peddling smut.”

Jon Ronson

When I ask him about the people whose lives were being decimated as a result of the business practices, he went, “Ugh, okay. Their livelihood.” He talked like a tech utopian, somebody who thinks the tech world can do no wrong. A lot of tech people go out of their way to not think about the negative consequences. You shouldn’t not think about those insidious consequences.

Alexander Bisley

Tech guys like the one you quote above basically dehumanize the labor?

Jon Ronson

Yeah. In the same way we dehumanize people that we tear apart on social media. Or in the same way that despots from the past dehumanized their victims. We just don’t wanna think about it. And that’s one of the reasons my public shaming book got some backlash, because people didn’t want to be confronted with the truth of the psychological tricks they play on themselves to not feel bad about the bad things they do.

Alexander Bisley

Since Them: Adventures With Extremists, your book and documentary series about conspiracy theorists, the idea of humanizing the dehumanized has featured in your work. Alex Jones, a far-right conspiracy theorist that has interviewed Trump on his show, was one of your early subjects, both in writing and in documentary. Did you go too far in humanizing him?

Jon Ronson

I’ve thought a lot about this, and I think Alex has changed. Alex is a different person now compared to how he was when I first knew him in the late ’90s. A lot of people who work for Alex would probably say the same thing. So the way we should regard him, the way we should write about him, should change. He’s changed partly because he’s more powerful now, and he’s richer, and he’s got an ally in the White House, and some of his conspiracy theories have got darker.

A couple of years ago, when Alex suddenly made a fortune from the Super Male Vitality supplements and so on, that’s pretty much exactly the same time that his discourse got more aggressive. As much as he denies saying that Sandy Hook didn’t happen, he did promote that conspiracy theory.

Alexander Bisley

How do you feel about the future of media?

Jon Ronson

I strongly believe the future for that industry of broadcasters is to welcome idiosyncratic voices and then just give them the freedom to do just that, which is exactly what Netflix did with Bong Joon-Ho for Okja, a film I co-wrote, and what Audible did with me and The Butterfly Effect. The days of gatekeepers making you jump through hoops is kinda over.

Alexander Bisley

The Australian writer Christos Tsiolkas, author of The Slap, wrote a compelling essay about the Internet zeitgeist. “I have become increasingly wary of morality disguised as politics and of our reversion to a language redolent of sin and shaming, certainty and righteousness.”

Jon Ronson

Yeah. The way I would describe it is legitimized bullying. The destruction of people like Justine Sacco [who tweeted an inappropriate joke that launched a viral pile-on and that led to her being fired] — what of social justice? It was a cathartic alternative to social justice.

When you’re bullied in school, quite often, you’re bullied by everyone. You don’t have friends to turn to. Monica Lewinsky, in an interview I did with her, told me of her scandal: “I was hung out to dry by everyone; I didn’t belong to any group.” That’s the same as what happened to Justine Sacco — she was hung out to dry by everyone: Misogynists hated her, philanthropists hated her, social justice people hated her, Donald Trump tweeted about her. So that’s probably why I felt so animated about that story … because it reminded me of school. When you’re being bullied by everybody, it’s legitimized bullying.

In a way, it’s the reason I wanted to do The Butterfly Effect as well. Because it’s a story about every time somebody watches porn for free on PornHub, they are potentially exploiting the lives of the porn people they’re watching.

Alexander Bisley

David Simon, creator of the sex work–themed television show The Deuce, believes a big problem with porn and sex work is poor labor rights.

Jon Ronson

Definitely in terms of royalties, back-end and stuff like that, porn people would agree with David Simon. Where they might disagree is that there’s definitely a narrative out there about porn people being forced to do things they don’t want to do on set by exploitative directing. Maybe their boyfriends were coercing them in some cases. But I can say that the side of the San Fernando Valley industry that we were in for a year on and off [making The Butterfly Effect], I saw nothing like that. That may happen in Miami and Las Vegas.

But the [Valley] directors and the producers and the other porn actors — it’s basically a kindhearted and respectful community, certainly more than outsiders might think. It has its problems, but it’s way more collegiate than outsiders would think it.

Alexander Bisley

What might surprise listeners about The Butterfly Effect?

Jon Ronson

Probably the most surprising thing about the series is how moving and endearing it gets. How supportive the performers are to each other. And in the world of custom, in the world of bespoke porn, how there’s this really lovely bond between the cast and producers and their client, their fans. A bunch of people have said they’ve never thought that a series about the tech takeover of the porn industry would make them cry, but the end of the series will make you cry.

Alexander Bisley

And challenge them?

Jon Ronson

There’s this amazing line in episode five of The Butterfly Effect where I’m talking to this girl who was a big porn watcher, and I said to her: “Did you ever learn their names?” And she said: “No, I never learned their names. It’s like when you kill a deer; you don’t name it because then you can’t eat it.”

Alexander Bisley

In addition to the pressure for some of them to work as escorts, porn stars have to be an enthusiastic brand all over social media. Is that a challenge?

Jon Ronson

Yes! In episode two I meet this woman called Maci May who was having a terrible time, and she used to vent about it on social media but now she’s much more wary because you have to be like a brand. She can’t tweet, “I don’t have any money.” She’s discouraged from acting that way by porn producers and directors who say to her: “No, no, you’ve got to constantly be chirpy and happy.”

When she said that to me, I thought, “That’s really sad.” In a parallel universe, there’d be a Twitter where Maci May could do all of that stuff, vent about how unhappy she was. But that’s not the Twitter we created for ourselves, sadly.

Alexander Bisley

“Sex is probably the most interesting subject in the world,” Paul Auster says.

Jon Ronson

I would never disagree with anything Paul Auster says, because he’s amazing. … I never thought of sex as interesting. What I thought was interesting about The Butterfly Effect wasn’t sex, but it was about what constitutes a reputable person and what constitutes a disreputable person. The thing that really got me interested was this idea that tech people are considered reputable; sex workers, porn people are considered disreputable. But this story shows that the porn people and the sex workers are supportive, kindhearted, lovely people, whereas the tech people are amoral, ruthless people.

source;-Vox

SoftBank founder’s brother Taizo Son launches agri-food tech accelerator in India

SoftBank Group’s founder Masayoshi Son’s younger brother Taizo Son has launched an agri-food tech accelerator in India in partnership with Gurgaon-based GSF Accelerator and Indo-Japan business consultancy Infobridge.

Taizo Son’s Japan-based incubator Mistletoe, GSF and Infobridge floated the joint venture accelerator christened as ‘Gastrotope’ in Bangalore on Thursday.

Taizo Son is a tech entrepreneur and a prolific investor in his own right, while his brother Masayoshi Son has earned more fame, money and influence through his aggressive investments across the globe. Since its launch in 2013, Taizo Son’s Mistletoe has made over 90 investments globally that are worth around $160 million. Mistletoe has made three investments in India in startups such as Innerchef, Ninjacart and Kisan Network. Innerchef was started by GSF’s founder Rajesh Sawhney.

Taizo Son founded Mistletoe in 2013. He is also founder of Japan-based mobile gaming company GungHo, in which SoftBank acquired a 51% share in 2013 for $1.53 billion. GungHo bought back most of its shares from SoftBank last year.

The newly launched accelerator Gastrotope will focus on sustainable ideas and models in the ‘farm-to-fork’ value chain. It plans to create an agriculture and food-tech enabled industry ecosystem throughout this value chain and invest in startups that can add value at various stages, starting with farmers and moving to food transportation, processing and delivery to consumption.

“I have always believed that innovation comes from the connecting of diverse dots, and this time, with the bridge between India and Japan, unique solutions to the questions of food and agriculture will arise,” Taizo Son said. “We hope, while working with our partners here, we will become a catalyst for this new movement of farm-to-fork permaculture,” he said.

Sawhney said he will be working on creating a leadership team for Gastrotope. Other details such as the duration, number of startups, launch of the first batch and investment amount are yet to be finalised.

“Gastrotope is borne out of a vision of democratising healthy gastronomy experiences for millions. The food consumption habits are changing globally with a focus on nutrition and wellness and instead of food industrialization, the new goal is all about ‘what we grow’. Gastrotope seeks to play a vital role in catalysing India’s adoption of these trends through the birth of a new agriculture and food-tech ecosystem,” he said.

Besides Innerchef, Sawhney founded GSF that runs three programmes such as an accelerator, an angel network and tech conferences. The GSF accelerator programme has incubated over 40 startups in Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru. Among these, investors have exited five startups, about 40% have raised venture rounds and over 80% have gone on to raise angel funding.

Infobridge has more than 10 years of experience in India, creating a bridge between India and Japanese businesses. It provides consulting and business development services to Japanese in India. The company has brought several Japanese startups to India.

[“Source-vccircle”]

How to find legitimate deals on tech

Gadgets

We all want to get our hands on the latest in shiny new gadgetry. Unfortunately, the newest tech tends to come with the most premium prices. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. By keeping an eye out for seasonal price changes, annual product cycles, special offers, and refurbished devices, you can make sure you’re buying your hardware at the best price point possible. If you want the best value from your future tech purchases, check out some of the tricks in this guide.

Become a web detective

Good news for eager bargain hunters: Plenty of online retailers are willing to slash prices in order to attract your business. To find these discounts, head to price comparison sites such as Google Shopping and PriceGrabber, which will list where something is selling for the cheapest price. Before you start your purchase though, check to see how extras like shipping charges and warranty costs will add to your total cost.

Don’t forget the biggest online retail behemoth out there. This guide to saving time and money on Amazon has lots of useful advice, such as tracking price changes with CamelCamelCamel. Plenty of the tips apply to other sites as well. For example, sign up for the email newsletters and follow the social media accounts of your favorite stores in order to receive a heads up on special tech deals you wouldn’t otherwise notice.

Google Shopping

On top of individual price comparison sites, you can install price comparison extensions for your web browser. The Shoptimate add-on fits right in your browser; when you visit one of a broad range of shopping sites, it will pop up to share additional price options in real time. InvisibleHand works similarly, and it also covers flight and hotel comparisons in addition to e-tail. Finally, Honey will lead you toward discount coupons and codes to take even more money off your total.

Beyond sites and extensions, you can compare some prices on your own. Scroll down to the bottom of a product listing on Amazon, for example, and you’ll see side-by-side spec and price comparisons of similar products. Every listing shows when the item first went on sale, so you can make sure you’re not comparing TVs or laptops from different years.

Once you’ve finished shopping, you’re almost ready to purchase. Before parting with your credit card or PayPal information, research the history and specs listings of the gadget that’s tempting you. After all your comparing, a low price might have tricked you into selecting an older product, or one that’s not exactly what you’re looking for.

Know your seasons and cycles

The time you shop can make a difference to the price you pay. So if you can hold off on a purchase, you might be able to get it for cheaper. For example, the sales bonanza that kicks off with Black Friday doesn’t really stop until Christmas. The biggest reductions during this period will be on older, mid-range tech rather than the very top-end stuff, so by all means splurge, but make sure you know what you’re getting.

When should you buy to get discounts on the best and newest gadgets? These deals don’t usually hit the scene until immediately before or after an updated version arrives. If you wait for the new model to appear, the current (and soon to be “old” model) is likely to be much cheaper. For the iPhone, for instance, shop in September, while Samsung’s Galaxy phones get less expensive around late February or early March, coinciding with the Mobile World Congress tech expo.

Apple iPhone

If you know when the new iPhone is coming out, you can save money on the older model.

Apple

Not every gadget has such a predictable release schedule. But a few minutes’ research online should tell you how long a tablet or a digital camera has been on the market and whether there are any rumors of a new and improved model in the pipeline. If you really want to get technical, look at the components. For example, Apple and all the other big laptop manufacturers base their product cycles around new CPUs from Intel, so you can predict when an updated range is about to arrive. (In case you’re wondering, the next batch at the time of writing should show up in late 2017).

You don’t have to become an expert on silicon. But keep a cursory eye on the tech press for Intel CPU news in order to choose the best time to make a purchase.

Take the refurb route

Ask yourself: Do you really need a laptop or a phone that’s fresh out of the box, untouched by human hands? Refurbished tech sometimes gets a bad reputation for faulty or knock-off gadgets that are priced to sell. But the reality is that you can make some serious savings on refurb tech that is virtually as good as new.

If someone has already opened your laptop, decided they don’t want it, and sent it back to the supplier, what do you care? As long as it works and you’re saving a chunk off the list price, you can enjoy your new product. These days, a lot of refurbed gear comes with a guarantee and warranty, so you’ll still have the security of purchasing a verified gadget—and the discounts can be substantial.

Apple Macs

The Apple site is one place to go to for refurbed tech.

David Nield/Popular Science

It’s not the only place you can buy refurbed gear, but eBay is a good place to get started. Look for refurbished versions of your favorite devices. Before you spend your money, check for good seller feedback and a warranty. Pay attention to the listing and the supplied photos as well, so you’ll know exactly what you’re getting.

Many of the big tech companies, including Dell and Apple, have refurbished storefronts of their own. Coming from the companies themselves, you know the goods will be comprehensively checked and good to go, so you don’t have to worry about the hardware dying on you after a few months. Again, double-check the age and spec of whatever you’re buying so you can do a proper comparison with the prices for the newest, top-end models.

Go for older tech

If you know what you’re looking for, then you can find some great deals on older pieces of technology. You just need to learn the difference between a gadget that’s cheap because it’s almost obsolete, and a gadget that’s cheap because it’s just been replaced by something newer.

We can’t give you advice for every single laptop, desktop, phone, tablet, TV, camera, and wearable line out there. But let’s use smartphones as an example: The Galaxy S7and the iPhone 7 were launched last year, but they’re both still very capable devices. When you start shopping, focus on flagship tech that’s now slightly older, rather than tech that was originally in the budget or mid-range section of the market and has now fallen even further behind.

Amazon TVs

Electronics like TVs can hang around in stores for a long time.

David Nield/Popular Science

Again, the specs list can tell you just what you’re getting. The newest TV sets have support for 4K and HDR, so if you can live without either or both of these (perhaps if you’re shopping for a smaller bedroom set that doesn’t need the highest resolution), you can get a model that launched two or three years ago—instead of the latest TV on the market—for a significantly cheaper price.If you don’t mind used gear, from sites such as eBay or Craigslist, then you can save even more: Just follow each site’s official buyer advice and do your research into the item you’re purchasing and its seller. That means carefully checking the photos of the device and its description so you know exactly what your money is buying.

Source:-popsci.