SmartZone CEO: Boost startups to full power

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Daniel Jamison, the new CEO of MTEC SmartZone, discusses his plans during Wednesday’s Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance meeting.

HANCOCK — The MTEC SmartZone’s new CEO gave his ideas for economic growth during the Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance’s meeting Wednesday.

Daniel Jamison began serving as CEO in December. He came to the SmartZone from the San Jose, California-based Synaptics, which has created touch technology such as the computer touchpad. There he worked to link the company to customers and infrastructure providers. That included a wide range of organizations, including manufacturing, infrastructure and universities.

“As (KEDA’s SmartZone Board representative) Kevin (Codere) said we’ve had three phases of development for the SmartZone,” Jamison said. “We’ve got facilities, we’ve got infrastructure, we’ve got people. Now it’s time to start closing some deals and start getting these guys onto the main stage.”

The current mission is to accelerate high-tech business development in the community, Jamison said.

The strategic focus for 2019 will be building capacity to support second-stage growth for companies, focus on relationships with universities and work to keep companies and students in the area.

Jamison’s mother’s family comes from the Keweenaw. He visited the area every summer as a child. He said he had been drawn to the area by the number of things going on in the Copper Country, from community funding for the arts to the launch of FinnZone.

Michigan’s climate to support business growth was also good, Jamison said, pointing to former Gov. Rick Snyder’s trips to China and rural redevelopment funding.

“All of those said to me, ‘There’s this great platform to do something here,'” he said.

The next steps for the SmartZone will be to keep track of new strategies, funding programs and methodologies and understand what makes them work, Jamison said.

SmartZone also needs to look at technologies in terms of their global applications. Entrepreneurs with ideas identified as viable can be directed to SmartStart or other economic development programs.

As an example, Jamison pointed to biomass activity coming in through FinnZone.

“We don’t necessarily have a horse in the technology race, but there’s a number of ancillary benefits to getting some sort of foreign investment, or some sort of foreign technology into this area, pilot it, roll it out and make these things happen,” he said.

Jamison said the SmartZone should also constantly review its goals and objectives to make sure

“We have to take a look at what they’re looking at, what their goals are,” he said. “We have to localize and regionalize how we address those goals up here.”

When former CEO Marilyn Clark announced her retirement, the board discussed what it wanted to see in her successor, Codere said. It decided early on it needed an outside thinker, requiring a national search. Jamison won out from a pool of 55 applications.

With Jamison’s Silicon Valley background, the board was skeptical at first it could hire him.

“When I found out he had a cabin at Gratiot Lake, I knew we had a chance,” Codere said.