missing the google opportunity

Candidate for Ypsilanti Mayor, Steve Pierce, issued a press release on the subject of Google this morning, and the fact that he’d like to have them settle their AdWords business here in Ypsi. Laura, at the Ypsi-Dixit site, reprinted the press release, with the suggestion that Steve, by saying what he did, was the most forward-thinking of our candidates for Mayor. l left the following comment in response.

No offense to Steve, but the question, “What have you done to attract Google to downtown Ypsilanti? If the answer is ‘nothing,’ why not?” appeared on the YpsiVotes.com site over two weeks ago. So, they all knew that it was an issue.

Quite frankly, I’m disappointed that it took Steve this long to act, and that, when he did act, that there wasn’t more content behind it. As Murph (in a previous comment on the YpsiDixit site) said, people have been working on this, and my hope (when I asked that Google question on the YpsiVotes site) was to see someone take ownership, establish a committee and put together a proposal.

This isn’t a slam against Steve or anyone else, it’s just that I want to see someone do something. This is more important than the election in my opinion. We have a real opportunity to compete with Ann Arbor on this one (given the requirements of Google) and we need to be more serious about pursing it. The minute that Google said they wanted to be in a downtown area close to Ann Arbor, we should have been shooting video to send to them. We should have launched a website. Instead, we’re talking about questionable endorsements, the Democratic credentials of candidates, and all kinds of other nonsense.

The truth is, all three candidates missed a huge opportunity, and it really does make me wonder whether or not we have someone capable to vote for in this race. I know that I said before that I wanted to remain above the fray when it came to this mayoral race, but I’m really pissed-off that we haven’t seen more from these candidates on the Google front. Granted, none of them are Mayor yet, but couldn’t one of them jump into a leadership role? I sure as hell would have if I were running.

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  1. mark
    Posted August 2, 2006 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    If one of the candidates has done something that I’m unaware of, let me know and I’ll apologize. Otherwise, I’ll stand by my statement.

  2. schutzman
    Posted August 2, 2006 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    I would much rather see a locally-owned, mom-and-pop search engine set up shop for their department of keyword-based ad revenue in one of the abandoned storefronts downtown.

    Just kidding.

    Sort of.

  3. mark
    Posted August 2, 2006 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    Yeah. It’s not really consistent with all my any chain stuff, but I’d rather have 1 Google than 250 check-cashing stores.

  4. Anonymous
    Posted August 2, 2006 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    I think there is a difference in the types of businesses we are talking about. Google will not come in here and drive out a bunch of mom and pop businesses like a chain would. Actually quite the opposite is true. Google will bring with it 1000 consumers who will shop at our mom and pop shops and help them thrive. The only risk I see is if someone like Google comes here, then the service chains may decide to follow suit. Google fits into the same realm as the car companies that we have here. They add to the area without taking away from the charm.

  5. egpenet
    Posted August 2, 2006 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    Exactly right, Jim.

    All large companies have real estate departments, if not divisions, that do nothing but identify growth areas for their business and go about quietly acquiring land for future development, ie. General Motors.

    Smaller organizations use third parties to quietly search and even purchase land under assuumed names, which is what Monoghan used to do secretly in our area and also under the name: TSM Enterprises.

    Downtown has a boulevard and a new parking plan. Depot Town will have a boulevard soon to go with its clock and pint-size RR watchtower. And we have oodles of new (empty) bike racks throughout town. All these thanks to our two DDAs and the CBC.

    I keep saying, we’ve got to identify what WE want to happen in this town and do it ourselves. That means making Ypsi a priority in our lives.

    A 20-20 Committee may prove to be just another “visioning” mob scene, which I’ve attended many times. I’ve attended my last chart pad & marker “grope.” Nothing happens because the DDAs/CDB personnel don’t do the job, the grants don’t get written/won.

    Steve Pierce’s “regional” orientation is a given. It’s already happening. It isn’t an original idea. And after that … no other vision from Steve to solve our needs.

    Lois wannts to market and so do WE. But, dear Lois, whom I like deeply, we can’t depend on backup from government to get it done. The city has no money for that, Lois. And anyway, I haven’t noticed anyone in the last 25 years here able to do it successfully, although many studies, consulting fees and salaries continued to be paid.

    One solution is for the neighborhoods to organize, develop the programs, products and services lists THEY want, form their committed subcommittees and go out and get it done. I’m not entirely positive our citizens are willing to work that hard. I hope they are.

    In the meantime, on the City’s end, we will have no income tax to bail it out (it will fail at the polls) … no significant help from Lansing … and the City will continue cutting programs and services to balance our budget.

    We as citizens must provide the alternatives to the above. And there are some pretty exciting and meaningful alternatives for us to explore together.

    Mark is right … none of the three candidates provides us with even a glimmer of a plan. And only one council cabndidate, Brian Robb, appears to have the creativity to be open to significant change in Ypsilanti.

    Just looking at the sources of political contributions for Steve Pierce, it appears overall that landlords, ex- residents/business people and Township residents want to run things, and are willing to put their money on the line.

    Is that what we want?

    Perhaps we should take politics, the mayor and council, OUT of the picture. How about letting City Hall run things, (which they do well, properly funded) but responsive to a Citizens’ Council peopled by non-paid but elected officers of our neighborhood associations, who must report directly to their neighbors.

    From the White House to Lansing to Ypsilanti … the structures of government are too big, too expensive, and no longer work to our bebnefit. And our elected officials of both parties keep their salaries and pensions AND health care while we pay and pay and pay.

    Getting involved, beiing active and doing the job ourselves is our only real alternative. And it’s the best way, anyway. It brings us together as a community. We know what we need and want … so, let’s DO it.

    Anyone taking bets on when that big red, white and black Swisher Real Estate sign goes up on City Hall?

  6. leighton
    Posted August 2, 2006 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

    Was anyone, including any of the 3 candidates, at the DDA meeting followng the Google announcement?
    I wasn’t (as I was probably screaming down an Apallacian mountain behind the wheel of a Freighliner). But minutes might be revealing.

    One hears that your current mayor was all over it, trying to sell Ypsi to the Googlites.

  7. Dirtgrain
    Posted August 3, 2006 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Forward thinker and visionary? Sheesh.

  8. Sam
    Posted August 3, 2006 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    For what it’s worth, I contacted Steve Pierce by e-mail about locating in Ypsi the day after the initial Google announcement back in mid-July. Steve responded the same day and indicated he was going to pursue it through the SmartZone committee. I hadn’t heard anything else until his press release earlier this week.

  9. ol' e cross
    Posted August 3, 2006 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    If Google comes to Ypsi, I guarantee we get a Starbucks.

  10. Tony Buttons Esq.
    Posted August 3, 2006 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t confirmed this, but I hear Startbucks are flamable.

  11. Anonymous
    Posted August 3, 2006 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    I would definitely be disappointed by a Starbucks in Ypsilanti. My coffee business is just now starting to take off after a year and a half in business. Maybe we could pass out those anti Starbucks bumper stickers to the Google Employees that say “Friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks”.

    On the other hand, if Google were to choose Ypsilanti over Ann Arbor, it would be because of our independent attitude. They would go to our existing coffee shops, fall in love with them, and even if Starbucks came to town, they wouldn

  12. leighton
    Posted August 3, 2006 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    As long as they don’t open a “Beaner’s” here!

    I’m sure even the Googleyed would know the problem with that.



  13. schutzman
    Posted August 4, 2006 at 1:52 am | Permalink

    Anyone taking bets on when that big red, white and black Swisher Real Estate sign goes up on City Hall?

    I’m putting my money on barnes & barnes or stewart beal, personally. Assuming, of course, that Pierce gets elected.

  14. ol' e cross
    Posted August 4, 2006 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    I’ll put a sawbuck on Mauer. Already got the Kresge building from Pierce and first to donate to the campaign…

  15. Kate
    Posted August 4, 2006 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    As someone who has been looking over downtown Ypsilanti spaces for opening a business, I think one of the downtown’s problems is the landlords who own the buildings. I love the older buildings, but a landlord who will not allow a space to be wired for computers is saying he would rather the storefront sit empty than be occupied. A landlord with a reputation for constantly interfering with the business’ operation is also not going to attract tenants.

    While I’ve heard the wails of despair over our empty storefronts, I’ve not heard anyone address this particular issue. Do you really think the old Smith Furniture building is sitting empty because no one is interested? How about the spaces on Michigan Avenue? Certain property owners have much to answer for when it comes to the dearth of business in the heart of downtown Ypsi. It’s not that no one wants to be here. It’s that these owners drive them away.

  16. egpenet
    Posted August 4, 2006 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    Greed … short and sweet. We’re all a little guilty having gotten used to financing our consumer lifestyle on rising equity, speculative rental unit purchases, development news that makes us more than a little tight fisted and/or controplling.

    I agree, Kate. My thought is that if a building or hom e lowner isnm’t going to DO anything with the building but SIT on it, then dump it and move on. There are buyers and/or prospective new business owners out here looking, but they’re not stupid.

    We need to make starting a new business in Ypsi a FAST TRACK proposition. The City, the property owners/landlords … real effort needs to be made to get the job done. The CBC, DDAs and other powers that be are not doing their job either. I think they are afraid of change, some loss of powwer … as a new generation moves in and changes things. C’mon old timers, step aside. Ypsi’s a’changin’.

  17. murph
    Posted August 6, 2006 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Ed –

    What do you think needs to be done that’s not being done?

  18. egpenet
    Posted August 6, 2006 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Murph: One or two new business owners downtown expressed “dismay”: and “some frustration” at the “hoops” they had to run through to get their buildings/stores up and running.

    This may be a perception on any new business owner’s part of what is truly takes to have a business. Much like what we seeee on the HDC, when a new home buyer appears shocked and awed by what is required to maintain their brick mortar or that authorizatiopn must be ontained to perform exterior work in the HDC.

    I’m asking if there are ways we can short-cut the business start-up process … a fast-track, as it were … to assure proper things are done, but providing a more welcoming formula … fewer steps, as such … more friendly assistance at city hall … DDA/CBC assistance to welcome, help obtain financing, some orientation, training about hours of operation, etc. A Welcome Wagon for Business.

    I am also being overtly critical of the high prices. Yes, some new entrepreneurs will be shocked by what it DOES take to obtain a building/space. However, our empty store fronts and vacant houses tell me, too, that pricves are just too high. If an owner has a sign in the window with cobwebs on it … is she/he serious, or what?

    The CBC has a lot of ideas for making downtown PETTIER. I think the City can help by making the downtown EASIER to move into. The CBC has PROMOTIONS to get young people/families downtown. Perhaps the CITY could help to PROMOTE downtown.

    As I’ve written before … over my last 20 years, we’ve had proposals for videos and multi-media programs, cabl;e TV promos, all kinds of ideas to create a package to help promote the City. So, when Google started to oogle the area, what did we have to show? We have a GREAT story to tell, but it remains the County’s best-kept secret.

    For young businesses who have the cajones to do thorough due dilligence, like Look in the Attic, there is no doubt that Michigan Avenue in Ypsilanti is the right place to be. We need to help prospective businesses who lack the inmfo and the digging skills to learn why Ypsi is the right town at the right time for them.

    A private meeting, one-on-one, with thjose businesses who have expressed difficulties working with the City should also be solicited/take place. Privately, we might get to the bottom of what/who is/are REALLY in the way at City Hall.

  19. Jennifer
    Posted August 7, 2006 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    I’ve done business downtown (opened a store in 2002 – it’s closed now).

    The DDA (at the time), my landlord, and the Small Business and Technology Development Center were very helpful in guiding me through the steps of getting my business open. What I learned through the process of opening my business is that most of the start-up rigamaroll is simply a test in stamina and your ability to follow directions.

    Ultimately though, the most able, direction-following person (me, for example) needs unlimited capital resources to do business in Downtown Ypsilanti right now. There simiply isn’t enough synergy to keep businesses thriving (limited daytime population, limited residential population, absence of other regularly-open businesses). Unlimited capital would’ve kept my business open while I waited for the infill of density downtown.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have unlimited capital, and I will be paying down business-incurred debt for many, many years. But, I’m NOT SORRY that I tried. I think I simply had the wrong business at the wrong time for Downtown Ypsilanti. (And, perhaps the wrong person running it – me.)

    To Kate’s point, I would say my biggest obstacle in a fast-track opening was the renovation I had to do to the building not only to get a Certificate of Occupancy, but to make the space look presentable and match the type of business I opened. I’m happy that the tenant, who now rents my old space was able to sign a lease and open her business in a matter of weeks. Most first floor spaces in Downtown Ypsilanti, however, are large and unruly.

  20. egpenet
    Posted August 7, 2006 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    To my point … building owners and/or landlords would havwe their buildings “clean” … not totally renovated necessarily … but clean and ready for poteential tenants, Jennifer’s experience would have been different.

    The two guys who moved into what’s now Look In Thhe Attic had a clean shell to work with … albeit that they did a TON of renovation to suit their business wants and needs.

    The exteriors and interiors of the empty buildings look like HECK. Especially the first commercial block along West Michigan. I know the CBC had a painting or “spruce-up” plan, but the property owners should be horse-whipped for the appearance of that strip … including Abe’s.

    Civic pride, people.

  21. muppster
    Posted August 8, 2006 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    okay, one little note from a common way up top… the bike racks all over town are thanks in large part to the work of the ypsilanti health coalition, a group of many of us working in nonprofits, hospitals, public health, and related groups who come together and do stuff to improve health in our community… the last year or so has focused on physical activity & nutrition/healthy food access. big thanks and recognition needs to go to our county public health dept, who does a lot of great stuff for ypsi that goes unnoticed locally, but has a great reputation in lansing and leveraged state funding for things like the bike racks, and support for the new downtown farmer’s market, and some of the new community gardens you see around town… lots of partners were involved with the bike racks, indeed, but it was the health coalition, via the state community health grant through the washtenaw steps up program that they actually materialized.

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