About Automation Alley >> History
Automation Alley has proven its worth in Southeast Michigan as a driving force for economic growth and business development on a local and global level. Today, the technology business association is nearly 1,000 member organizations strong.
But that wasn’t always the case, recalls Automation Alley Executive Director Ken Rogers. Like many of the startup companies Automation Alley assists today, the association’s origins can be traced back to very humble beginnings. It’s the story of Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson’s vision for leveraging the region’s cutting-edge businesses.
“In 1998, members of the local business community went to see Patterson and said to him, ‘There’s a shortage of technical workers in Oakland County, and if we don’t have the necessary technical workers, we’ll be forced to leave the state,’” says Rogers, who was at the time serving as a deputy executive for Oakland County. “That got everybody’s attention.”
Patterson went to work, hiring Lansing-based firm Anderson Economic Group to conduct a study which revealed there were about 127,000 technical jobs in Oakland County alone and 300,000 in Southeast Michigan, numbers that compared favorably to Silicon Valley and other national technology hubs at the time. He traveled to Silicon Valley to better understand the business of technology and how it impacted the surrounding region. The visit confirmed his desire to create a technology organization for Oakland County and eventually Southeast Michigan. Upon his return, Patterson recruited Rogers to head up Automation Alley and brand the region as a center for excellence in technology.
“Patterson’s plan all along was to go regional in order to assure the sustainability of the organization,” Rogers says. “He wanted Automation Alley to survive his administration.”
Rogers started out as the only full-time employee, working on limited resources out of the Oakland County office buildings. The association began with 44 member organizations. Within a few years, the staff grew and membership dramatically increased.
To better serve the local business community, Automation Alley created four member-driven committees, developed a suite of member benefits, introduced a quarterly newsletter and launched a national marketing campaign to attract high-tech talent to the area.
But the fledgling organization was in need of funding, Rogers recalls. “So Patterson and I got in our cars and went door to door to the business community and sold foundation memberships.”
Later, Automation Alley began an export program with trade missions to locations around the world. In 2004, the organization found a new home, opening its own headquarters in Troy.
“The Troy location gave the organization a permanent identity and a physical presence,” Rogers says. “And from that point on, Automation Alley has been making its own business model. We never fit into a mold. We continue to adapt.”
Today, Automation Alley is in the top 10 percent of business technology associations nationally, based on membership size. Its goal is to be the largest in the country by 2020.
“As exciting as the past has been for Automation Alley, the future is even brighter,” says Rogers. “Through the years, we have strived to be a change agent. We look for the needs of the industry and try to meet them.”