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Monday, 26 March 2012 15:45

Wolverine CEO: Time is right to invest in Michigan

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Wolverine CEO: Time is right to  invest in Michigan PHOTO: Jeff Hage
ROCKFORD — Wolverine World Wide Inc. Chairman, President and CEO Blake Krueger joined his colleagues from around the state last week at the Business Leaders for Michigan CEO Summit in Detroit. His point during a panel discussion: After a decade of tough times, now is a great time to invest in Michigan, which is recovering economically faster than almost every other state in the nation.

“Bottom line: Michigan is an excellent investment whether you’re in the state or outside the state for a number of reasons,” Kruger said. “Right now, about the state, I’m feeling very bullish.”

Krueger was joined in the panel discussion about investing in Michigan by Perrigo Co. Director Michael Jandernoa, Valassis Chairman Alan Schultz and Brig Sorber, president and CEO of Two Men and a Truck International. Krueger spoke with MiBiz about why investors should put their money into Michigan-based companies.

Given what Michigan has been through in the last decade, why should someone, whether an individual or an institutional investor, invest in Michigan right now?

Michigan is really the individual state success story, and maybe it’s because we’ve risen from a pretty deep well that we’re the success story. Despite our early success, it’s still pretty early in this life cycle. So when you look at it from the standpoint of what is the state’s potential and what is my business potential for investing in the state, it frankly makes common sense to give Michigan a good hard look.

And certainly, for the people in businesses that I talk to every week that are here, they’re feeling more bullish than they have in years.

What makes it a good time to invest?

We have momentum. We are on the upswing. We have a skilled workforce and a hard-working workforce. We have the infrastructure. We have the talent, although we are recruiting for talent against a lot of different states and regions. Our engineering base in Michigan is second-to-none in the country. When you start counting up the things on the “plus” side of the equation, Michigan is in a very good spot.

As you urge your colleagues and fellow CEOs, your friends and acquaintances, to invest in Michigan, is this about good business sense or about altruism to help the state?

In my mind, a little altruism never hurts, but at the end of the day what’s going to make jobs sustainable, what’s going to make the state sustainable, what’s going to continue our momentum that we’ve created in the last year, is all about practical business sense. At the end of the day, capital — whether it’s our capital in Michigan or coming from outside of the state — helps create jobs. It creates new businesses, opportunities and growth, and I personally view it as common business sense.

Define what you mean by “invest.” Are you strictly saying money and capital, or do you also mean your time and talent — such as what Mike Jandernoa is doing with his mentoring program?

It’s a question of both. It really means investing in all of those things. At the end of the day, it always comes down to people. I tend to view Michigan as being a net exporter of talent for a lot of years and we need to retain some of the talent that we have here graduating from our own schools and we also need to attract talent form the outside. It’s all about talent and your talent base. There is a war for talent going on across the country.

We have seen increased activity from outside venture funds and private-equity funds investing in Michigan-based companies. That raises concerns about the loss of intellectual property and equity when there is an exit by those funds. Do you share that concern and is that one of the things you’re seeking to avoid by encouraging more in-state investing?

Not really. I take kind of the broader view. I tend to view capital basically as all good. If the capital comes from Michigan, it’s great. If the capital comes from other places, it’s still great, because if the capital ends up in Michigan, it’s going to be used by our current businesses, startup businesses and smaller businesses to really create the jobs and opportunities to really attract talent and retain the talent that we graduate each year from our universities. So it’s hard for me, personally, to really view capital, from whatever source, (as) falling into the “bad” column.

Yeah, there’s a chance it could exit the state, but you know what? Give me the opportunity to have it in the state to begin with. I like our odds of making it stick here. If it’s never here to begin with, we have no chance to make it stick. Maybe not 100 percent, but most of it will.

If the effort is to get more people to invest in Michigan, do we need to be careful about setting expectations too high or expecting returns to come too quickly?

I don’t mind reaching high. If you never reach high in life, you’re never going to grab that rung on the ladder.

Where do we need more investments: startup companies, second-stage companies, mature companies or all across the capital continuum?

Probably across the whole continuum, but I would say with a special emphasis on startups and companies that are early on in their life cycle. A lot of new businesses are being formed around our universities. We have one of the best university systems in the entire country. We need to take advantage of that as a state and we need to keep that intellectual talent and ideas here and we have to have the infrastructure and capital available to develop those ideas in viable businesses.

Read 2204 times Last modified on Sunday, 12 August 2012 10:22

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