The Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum played host to Gov. John Engler’s announcement of the future location of the Michigan Information Technology Center on Friday. Engler also announced plans to create a technology Hall of Fame in the MITC.

The MITC, a 100,000 square foot building to be built on Oakbrook Drive in Ann Arbor, will house the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development.

UCAID is a non-profit organization supporting Internet2, a consortium of universities, industries, and government aimed at creating faster electronic networks. The MITC will also house Merit, Michigan’s largest Internet provider.

Engler’s reasons for the center’s placement in Ann Arbor included close proximity to the improved Detroit Metropolitan Airport and the presence of the University of Michigan, as well as the technology resources already in Ann Arbor.

One of Engler’s goals for the center is increased Internet connection speed. “We need (faster) connections. We don’t think dial-up is going to be adequate,” he said. He talked about the need to increase usage of high-speed Internet technologies, such as broadband, saying this would drive down the cost and make these technologies more accessible. “What we are seeking is to … give more families, more schools, more public buildings high-speed Internet solutions.”

The second part of Engler’s announcement dealt with a technology hall of fame. “The purpose of the hall of fame is to honor the pioneers of the past and inspire the pioneers of the future,” he said.

Engler stressed the importance of the MITC for education, saying children are more adaptable and willing to try new technology than their parents. As an example of the possible impact of the MITC on education, he talked about students using the center’s video conferencing capabilities to hold real-time conversations with other students and scientists around the world.

“Before too many years, we’ll have kids from Ann Arbor and across the state in rooms like this talking to kids from all around the world,” said Doug Rothwell, president and chief executive officer of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

The Hands-On Museum will display exhibits using technologies from the MITC, said Jim Frenza, president and CEO of the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. Two exhibits will be physically displayed at the museum and following exhibits will be virtual. Frenza described the next stage of technology exhibits. “We’ll be doing some virtual exhibits that will be beamed all over the world,” he said. “Nobody else is doing anything like this. Fun, eh?”

Susan Lackey, president and secretary of the Washtenaw Development Council, which has reviewed proposals for the MITC and helped choose its site, called the immediate results of the MITC “hard to predict,” given the uncertain nature of the economy and constantly evolving technology. She did say the results of innovations from the MITC would lead to “people from all over the world working together” both at the center and in virtual space using technology from the center.

John Hieftje, mayor of Ann Arbor, spoke about Michigan’s role in launching the Internet. “So many people may not realize that the Internet was born here,” he said.

Hunt Williams, president of Merit Network, Inc., called the MITC a “new chapter” in Michigan’s technology leadership, while Rothwell called the MITC “another piece in the puzzle of trying to make Michigan an Internet leader in the country.”

Engler and Doug Van Houweling, president and CEO of UCAID, also mentioned the importance of the University to the MITC.

“The University of Michigan is not only an anchor of this community. … Many of the best at Internet2 are also staff at the University,” Van Houweling said. He explained many of Internet2’s staff members were actually University staff members essentially on loan. Engler said the center’s proximity to the University would also help attract students who would otherwise have gone to schools known for their technology focus, like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Engler proposed the MITC as part of a technology initiative in his 2001 State of the State speech. Van Houweling said Engler’s speech was critical to the success of the MITC. “Since then we have been on a very deliberate path to get to this day,” Van Houweling said.

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