SPARK encourages tech jobs

By Chelsea Landry, Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 14, 2012

With graduation quickly approaching, many seniors are beginning to think more intently about their future plans, which may require them to relocate to cities such as New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. However, one Ann Arbor company is looking for incentives to encourage grads stay in Michigan.

Ann Arbor SPARK, an organization dedicated to creating high-tech jobs in Michigan, recently received a $100,000 grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation in March. The funding will support SPARK’s MichAGAIN program, a series of events aimed at bringing recent college graduates and professionals back to Michigan.

Donna Doleman, vice president of marketing, communications and talent for SPARK, said she hopes that the grant will strengthen her organization’s efforts to bring talent to Michigan.

“There are a number of job opportunities … across the state,” Doleman said. “But it’s our role (as) Ann Arbor SPARK to reach out to several locations throughout the country where there are (University) graduates.”

MichAGAIN events will be held across the country, specifically in cities with a large proportion of college graduates, such as Palo Alto, Calif., Boston, Washington, D.C. and Chicago, according to an Ann Arbor SPARK press release.

“The idea is to reach out to graduates, let them know there are lots of opportunities in Michigan, (and have them) come back to Michigan,” Doleman said.

She added that many of the jobs MichAGAIN participants may find in Michigan are in the fields of information technology, life sciences and technology, including positions such as software engineers and programmers.

While the challenges of finding a job are highly relevant to newly graduated students, Doleman emphasized that the prospective audience for this program is very diverse in age.

“The jobs are not just for recent graduates,” she said. “They can be for people that graduated 10 years ago, 20 years ago.”

Doleman said the MichAGAIN program seems to be very successful so far.

“We have found that people have an affinity for the area; they want to get back to the area,” she said. “Employers are saying, ‘Yes, we have opportunities. Come to the area.’”

Beyond facilitating the MichAGAIN program, SPARK has also helped fund micro-grants to start-up companies, hosted job fairs, and trained new graduates and mid-career professionals for jobs in high-tech industries, according to SPARK representative Jennifer Cornell.

Cornell added that the partnership between SPARK and the MEDC is strong because the MEDC performs a similar role, but “on a bigger, broader, state-wide level.”

While the MEDC grant will certainly help stimulate SPARK’s plans for MichAGAIN events, it remains uncertain how effective the program will be in bringing back graduates or professionals.

Business sophomore Haley Bash said she doesn’t think such events would be effective in keeping her in the state personally, and doubts the success of programs like MichAGAIN.

“I love Ann Arbor. I go to school here, but I would really like to go somewhere bigger,” she said.

Bash, who will be interning in Chicago this summer, said larger cities seem to have more to offer than cities in Michigan.

“I’d really like to live in a big city,” she added. “There are just so many things to do.”