An eclectic mix of speakers at Wednesday’s Morning Edition breakfast talked about healthcare in developing countries, commercials promoting tourism in Michigan, computer security, the upcoming Ann Arbor Restaurant Week and an update on the venture that will replace the Ann Arbor News.
Russ Collins, the event’s emcee and executive director of the Michigan Theater, also noted that they were now installing a state-of-the-art 3D projector, just in time for the May 29 opening of Disney-Pixar’s animated film “Up” – which features, he noted, “a hyperactive nine-year-old named Russell.”
David Canter, former head of Pfizer’s Ann Arbor research campus, kicked things off with comments about the University of Michigan’s acquisition of that site.
Canter is now director of healthcare at UM’s William Davidson Institute, but for many years he led the local research operations for Pfizer. The 174-acre site on Ann Arbor’s north side was acquired in pieces over the past four decades, he noted, but much of it, ironically, was part of UM’s north campus over 50 years ago.
When Pfizer decided to close its local research operations and pull out of Ann Arbor, the firm received a lot of inquiries from people who wanted to buy little pieces of the property, Canter said. But anyone who wanted to acquire the entire site also wanted to fill it with a big tenant – and the only big tenant in town is the university, he said. Having UM buy the property in its entirety “is by far the neatest solution,” Canter said. ”The tax problem, I just ignore it – but we’re going to have to deal with it,” referring to the fact that UM’s purchase will take the property off the tax rolls. Pfizer had been the city’s largest taxpayer. It’s better by far to have the site full of people and activity than to have it shuttered, he said. The site is “rich with potential,” but it’s now up to the university to capitalize on the purchase. It presents an amazing opportunity to develop public/private partnerships there, he said.
Canter also spoke of his work with the William Davidson Institute, where he’s developing ways to bring management and organizational expertise to healthcare systems, especially in emerging countries. This work stems in part from the six months he spent in Rwanda as a Pfizer Global Health Fellow, working with Columbia University’s Access Project. “I came back from Rwanda a different person,” he said.
Most people assume that healthcare is mostly linked to science, but in fact about half of its success hinges on the ability to lead, organize and manage, Canter said, and that’s the focus of his work. He gave an example of working with a clinic in Rwanda and asking them what their budget was for hiring. “What’s a budget?” they asked. It turns out they’d been awarded money that would cover the hiring of additional nursing staff, but since they didn’t have the funds in hand, they weren’t willing to go ahead and make the hires. Effective organization and management can lead to saving as many children’s lives as any other major medical intervention, he said.
Dave Lorenz, Travel Michigan: Next up was Dave Lorenz, managing director of PR for Travel Michigan, the branch of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. that’s focused on tourism. They’re part of the MEDC because “it’s all about jobs,” he said. They developed the Pure Michigan campaign to capture the essence of the state and attract tourists – Lorenz joked that they rejected several other slogans, including one he proposed: “Michigan – At Least We’re Not Indiana.”
Actor Jeff Daniels was doing spots focused on attracting businesses to the state, so they decided to approach comedian Tim Allen, another Michigan native and someone who’s known for his voice work in animated films. Allen, whose brother teaches high school in Muskegon and who vacations in the state every year, agreed to do the work at a greatly reduced cost, Lorenz said. With that, Lorenz played five short commercials from the campaign that are airing nationwide – you can view them on the Pure Michigan website.
Yan Ness, Online Tech: Collins ribbed Ness for liking Michigan’s climate. Why? Because it’s often cold, and that gives firms here a competitive advantage if they operate data centers and need to keep thousands of computer servers cool. Ness said the biggest cost for operating computers on any scale is the energy required for powering and cooling.
But the biggest challenge, he said, is security. The several thousand servers that Online Tech manages receive hundreds of attacks by hackers each day, trying to gain access to the machines and the data they contain. The main culprits now are hackers backed by governments that are training to get control of the nation’s electric grid. “It’s a real issue,” he said. Ness then asked a series of questions about the passwords that audience members used – including how many people use the name of their dog in their password. The main way that computer systems are compromised is by people simply divulging too much information, he said – just as the audience had done by responding to his questions. Finally, he cautioned people not to write down their passwords – Post-It notes are the No. 1 cause of security breeches.
James Macdonald, Bella Ciao Restaurant: Macdonald is the driver behind the upcoming Ann Arbor Restaurant Week, an idea he championed after seeing a similar promotion in San Francisco. From June 14-19, nearly two dozen restaurants in the Main Street area will offer special one-price dining: $12 for lunch, $25 for dinner. Parking isn’t a problem after 6 p.m., he said, and he encouraged people to come downtown and try new restaurants. Soft shell crabs will be in season, he said, so at Bella Ciao they’ll offer that as an entree. You might also try an appetizer of fresh asparagus and arugula with champagne vinaigrette and puff pastry with strawberries and rhubarb. “You’ll just die,” he said, “and these are all low calorie.”
Macdonald said they couldn’t persuade local restaurants to offer the specials for an entire week, but only from Sunday through Friday. “How dumb is that?” he quipped, adding that Bella Ciao is extending its special pricing through Saturday of that week.
Laurel Champion, AnnArbor.com: Collins noted that Champion is the first and last female publisher of the Ann Arbor News – the newspaper will publish its last edition on Thursday, July 23. In its place, Advance Publications – which owns the News – is starting a new, primarily online venture called AnnArbor.com. Champion is executive vice president for that entity, and said she was pleased that the owners recognized how special Ann Arbor is and that they’re willing to invest in this market.
She assured the crowd that they aren’t abandoning local journalism, and that “content is king.” They’ll also publish two print editions each week, on Thursday and Sunday, plus a “total market coverage” edition that will be delivered weekly to non-subscribers. The Sunday paper, which will be published for the first time on July 26, will look a lot like a traditional newspaper, she said. They’re still figuring out what the Thursday edition will include, but it will likely contain hard news as well as entertainment and sports information leading into the weekend. They’re planning to launch their online content during the week prior to July 23.
[Later in the day, Tony Dearing – chief content director for AnnArbor.com – gave more details at a talk hosted by the LA2M group at Conor O'Neill's. He said they plan to hire between 30-35 employees focused on news coverage, plus freelance staff. In addition to coverage of topics like local government, education, crime, business, sports and entertainment, other features of the site include a section called The Deuce, with content aimed at people in their teens, 20s and early 30s, and a focus on neighborhoods like the Old West Side and Kerrytown. He said they're also forming a local advisory group, which he'll announced in the coming week. Slides of his presentation are here.]
Morning Edition is a monthly event hosted by the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce and held at Weber’s Inn on Jackson Road.