Help Wanted in Michigan: Immigrants Need Apply

Following a speech last week, six students approached Thomas Zurbuchen, associate dean of entrepreneurial programs at the University of Michigan, to ask him a few follow up questions

Of that six, four were foreign nationals, a ratio that is typical of entrepreneurship related classes, he says.

But Zurbuchen, an American citizen originally from Switzerland, these would be entrepreneurs often return to their home countries without starting a business here.

“We educate these immigrants and entrepreneurs and at the end of it we say ‘thank you very much’ and send them home,” he says. “That’s just not smart.”

Research universities and high tech startups rely heavily on foreign brain power. Michigan and the country at large need to find ways to continue to tap that talent, says Doug Neal, the managing director of the school’s Center for Entrepreneurship.

“In the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan, I think about half of our [graduate] enrollment is from foreign national students and if you look to Silicon Valley there’s a high percentage of people who start companies there that are foreign nationals as well,” Neal says. “If we have trends like that and we have the influx like that, it should be factored into the equation of how you address the brain drain.”

In his state of the state address last month, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder said one of his priorities will be creating an environment that will keep immigrants with advanced degrees in Michigan.

“One-half of startups in Silicon Valley have a foreign national as one of the founders,” Snyder said in his speech last month. “Immigration made us a great state and country. We need to embrace the concept again as a way to speed our reinvention.”

However, the Snyder Administration has yet to develop any new, concrete proposals.

Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said state officials are currently in an “information gathering phase.” She added that … Next Page »

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Jillian Berman is an intern for Xconomy Detroit. Follow @

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