The University Record, December 6, 1999

IT Zone’s Launch Pad opens

By Theresa Maddix

Approximately 200 people crowded into the 330 E. Liberty facility for the grand-opening celebration. Photo by Bob Kalmbach
Appropriately, the Ann Arbor IT Zone’s Launch Pad at 330 E. Liberty had its Nov. 23 ribbon-cutting ceremony on-screen with a red rocket blasting through the tape. The Launch Pad is the IT Zone’s physical facility for events and conferencing.

“The Ann Arbor IT Zone,” explained Jose-Marie Griffiths, board chair and university chief information officer, “is a non profit organization created to support and promote technology in Southeastern Michigan.

“From the University’s perspective,” she said, “faculty, staff and students will have an intriguing learning environment in which to grow and share.”

Griffiths addressed a standing-room-only crowd of entrepreneurs, and University and community leaders at the grand-opening ceremony. President Lee C. Bollinger, Mayor Ingrid Sheldon and Michigan Economic Development Corp. President Doug Rothwell also spoke.

The Zone, Griffith’s said, is “designed to bring together start-up companies, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, established businesses and others involved in the information technology business.”

“Its goals are to improve opportunities for new businesses, increase and retain the number of trained IT people in the area, and propel Washtenaw County and the state of Michigan forward in establishing this region as a nationally recognized center for IT development.”

Bollinger said the “venture represents two very important things about the University.” The first is “the importance of the University working together with the community. There are a number of things it’s possible for us to do better by working better with the community.”

The second is the University’s “interest in seeing certain kinds of economic development. This has become most clear to me over the past two years as we’ve worked on the Life Sciences Initiative,” he said, citing biotechnology research and bioinformatics as examples of industries that will enhance the area’s economy.

Looking at just the life sciences, Bollinger noted, “the importance of information technology is crucial.” Huge amounts of data are being generated each day by the Human Genome Project and related research.

Rothwell presented the IT Zone with a certificate from the state and a flag that had flown over the state Capitol. “It wouldn’t be that long ago that somebody living in Michigan said, ‘What is “it” [instead of recognizing the acronym]?’ Now in Michigan there are more than 5,000 IT companies,” he noted.

The IT Zone also provides networking opportunities for IT and business professionals and will continue to work on the Grid—a University and community project to bring a high-speed Internet connection to downtown Ann Arbor.

Ann Arbor IT Zone collaborators include the University, Washtenaw Development Council, Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce, and several local businesses and community leaders.