February 7, 2010
By Amy Lane: (517) 371-5355, alane@crain.com
© 2010 Crain Communications Inc.

LANSING — The U.S. Department of Energy‘s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Michigan Economic Development Corp. are forging a collaboration that could pay off for companies and the state.

Under a three-year contract being finalized, an executive from the Tennessee lab will be based in Livonia, serving as a resource for the state and industry.

It will bring greater access to the resources of Oak Ridge — the DOE’s largest science and energy laboratory — and other DOE national labs into the backyard of automakers, alternative-energy companies and defense firms that could benefit, said Gary Krause, director of federal partnerships and initiatives at the MEDC.

For example, one of Michigan’s new advanced battery ventures might need assistance that could tap Oak Ridge’s strength in “materials characterization,” such as determining how a given material might operate in a new generation of battery, Krause said.

Another key focus of Oak Ridge is carbon fiber composites that have applications for wind turbine blades, other industries and in structures such as bridges.

Ray Boeman, director of the advanced transportation systems program at Oak Ridge, is setting up shop in the MEDC’s Livonia office under the new collaboration.

He started Feb. 1. But Boeman’s local presence and involvement through Oak Ridge stretch back over a decade, first on assignment with the United States Council for Automotive Research formed by the Detroit 3, and later as an organizing member of the U.S. Automotive Partnership for Advancing Research and Technologies, or USAutoParts, unveiled at the 2008 North American International Auto Show.

Boeman said the relationship will help Oak Ridge “understand the needs of an industry a little better” and help industry better-understand what resources are available at Oak Ridge and other labs and how they can be accessed.

He will also be a resource for the MEDC. Boeman was among those working with the state to assess advanced battery ventures that were awarded state tax credits. Going forward, one of his jobs will be to help “evaluate technologies and the maturity of companies that are seeking our assistance,” Krause said.

The MEDC and Oak Ridge, the latter through funding from the DOE, are sharing the as-yet undisclosed cost.

Mention of the venture was tucked into a document accompanying Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s State of the State address last week, a speech that highlighted diversification.

In her speech, Granholm also announced initiatives to help entrepreneurs and small businesses.

Efforts include expansion of an entrepreneurship program being offered at Detroit’s TechTown and in Kent County in which entrepreneurs learn how to successfully launch and build a business.

The FastTrac NewVenture program, a national effort by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Detroit in partnership with TechTown and the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan, will now become available through all 12 Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Centers, with $200,000 in MEDC assistance.

In addition, there’s a new collaboration with the Michigan Credit Union League to form the Michigan Small Business Financing Alliance designed to provide small businesses greater access to capital.

Thirty credit unions have so far signed up and have committed at least $43 million to make loans averaging about $20,000. The program will pair credit union capital with small businesses that receive training and development support from the MEDC and the statewide small business centers.