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Published: Sunday, 7/16/2006

Michigan's been Googled

FOR Michigan, a state with a stubbornly high unemployment rate, the announcement of good-paying, high-tech jobs coming to the Ann Arbor area is more than an economic boost.

It is, as Gov. Jennifer Granholm said, also a psychological one for a state struggling to rebound from a stagnant economy. The decision by Google, Inc. to open a facility in the University of Michigan's back yard is also a relief for the struggling Granholm re-election campaign.

The governor, who's been criticized for failing to attract high-tech jobs to the state, hailed the Google plans as yet another indication that Michigan is "transitioning from the image of being a manufacturing-only economy."

Surrounded by company officials, economic development leaders, and supporters wearing Google T-shirts, Ms. Granholm expressed the hope that the arrival of the Internet search engine firm will keep young people in the state.

The attraction of talented college graduates in the Washtenaw County location was not lost on Google. Company officials said Ann Arbor's highly educated population was a major factor in the decision to locate there. It probably was helpful that Google co-founder and East Lansing native Larry Page is also a graduate of the University of Michigan.

University President Mary Sue Coleman predicts the Google move to Ann Arbor "will mean more research and discoveries, more opportunities for student engagement and the potential of new technologies and new jobs."

The online leader is expected to hire 1,000 people within five years of opening its new sales center for Google's AdWords program.

The advertising operation should be in business this fall and job openings are already posted on Google, with average starting pay approaching about $50,000 a year.

Local officials are confident the high-tech project could indirectly generate an estimated 1,245 additional jobs in the region.

In a state still stuck in the economic doldrums with its signature domestic auto industry shrinking, Google's announcement represents more than a new company moving to Michigan.

It is yet another hopeful sign of what one university economist called "this longer-term transition from the traditional industrial economy to a more knowledge-based economy."

Given the opportunity to flourish, the influx of high-tech, high-paying jobs in Michigan could go a long way toward reversing its Rust Belt image.

Neighboring Ohio should be taking notes.

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