Our High-Tech Hometown

Traverse City Business News
Traverse City Business News
By Katie Horvath
In CommentaryIssue 2019 September 

Traverse City is my hometown. When I left to pursue an engineering degree – which turned into a high-tech career in Silicon Valley – I knew that my path would take me away from TC. Permanently.

At the time, there was no high-tech industry in Traverse. The choice caused me to reflect, realizing that by choosing high-tech I would not be able to move home unless I changed careers. It seemed ironic that while many people were trying to move to TC for the beauty and desired quality of life, I was forced to leave in order to chase a hot industry.

As fate would have it, I returned 15 years later to be near family. But to do so, I had to work remotely for my West Coast clients as a thriving high-tech industry did not yet exist in TC. I used to say, “Thank goodness for the airport and internet,” the combination of which allowed me to live here. Being able to live anywhere and work remotely was a huge advance; in fact, it made it possible for many of my Traverse City Senior High classmates to also migrate back to northern Michigan.

As remote workers, we operated out of home offices and had little or nothing to do with the local business community. We were often surprised to learn that someone had moved back, but not as surprised to learn that they had done so six months earlier and due to working out of their home, we had not known of their return until much later. I remember seeing the TCBN’s 40 Under 40 awards, thinking that that would be a really cool list to make, but the reality was that despite being nationally recognized in my career, I was not set up to be recognized by the local business community.

In fact, I was not even contributing to the local business community. Growing up with a strong sense of duty to give back to your local community and take on community leadership opportunities, I wasn’t living up to it. But I was too busy raising a young daughter and hopping on planes to San Francisco, D.C. or Denver to think about it for long.

Until it changed.

Thanks to a newly emerging technological ecosystem attracting start-up businesses to this area, high-tech is moving in for both new players and also long-time TC businesses. The ecosystem began with a vision and has been organically built to attract and retain emerging technology companies.

I am privileged to now lead and scale a software company in the field of big data, playing on the world stage, from our Traverse City headquarters. Naveego – co-founded by Derek Smith, a TC native – was recently listed in the Big Data 100 by CRN, a national technology commerce publication. This list also featured many West Coast industry giants.

Without a high-tech ecosystem to grow and gain national attention in the field of enterprise data management software, Naveego could not have succeeded in northern Michigan.

But one is here. TC’s visionary ecosystem includes tech incubators, investors, shared work spaces, and advisory services geared toward the needs of emerging technology companies, such as accounting firms, lawyers, employee benefits services and more. It has created new jobs in TC and new business opportunities for long-time TC businesses angling to become part of the scene.

Its early success has resulted in high-tech companies being built here or locating here. There is a trickle-down effect for the entire business community. New office spaces are needed with equipment and furnishings to outfit them. Realtors are in demand to help companies find office space. Builders are sought after to customize the spaces. There are new business insurance policies, IT services, commercial loans, catering for business meetings and events … the list goes on.

In addition to commercial business gains, there is a direct consumer impact to our economy by attracting the tech industry to northern Michigan. First, we are creating new high-paying jobs. Once, I had to leave TC to have a career in high-tech; now, we are now attracting top caliber talent from across the country to move to northern Michigan.

Software developers from North Carolina to New Mexico, Florida to New York and from downstate have moved to TC join our team. The high-tech industry provides new lateral possibilities for the local workforce, and high-paying opportunities for new graduates and graduates from universities across the country who grew up here. As much as I love the sand dunes (and they are beautiful), it has been extremely rewarding to have people moving to join our team who did not target TC as their destination because of tourism. New hires are coming based upon the technological and industry opportunities Traverse City now provides.

New employees mean steady housing demand for young professionals and tech industry families. By creating year-round jobs that attract young professionals to the region, our economy benefits in ways that seasonal tourism and retirees alone cannot provide. Young tech professionals make year-round use of local restaurants, hair salons, retail boutiques, theaters, art galleries, coffee shops, day spas and gyms. They buy cars. They send their children to school and volunteer time and resources to build youth athletic clubs, music programs and robotics teams. They do business with local banks, donate to regional nonprofits, play in adult soccer leagues, and even build floats to show community pride during July parades.

Bottom line: the dollars stay in Traverse City and our entire community benefits.

While working remotely was a step in the right direction for many of us, allowing people to return or relocate to Traverse City, this was not the answer for growing a stable year-round economy.

And Naveego is not alone in its high-tech success here. I’ve had several meetings with healthcare tech companies relocating from the West Coast and downstate to join TC’s emerging scene. Aerial and submersible drones are moving in or being launched out of NMC’s technology program. Manufacturing tech firms, app companies and website development companies with national customer bases are coming, too.  I recently had the honor of speaking at a space industry event in Traverse City. “NASA in Traverse City?” you say?  Yes, our new ecosystem is attracting private space industry companies, too. The sky is apparently not the limit when it comes to building high-tech commerce in TC.

The high-tech industry is blooming up north and I’m thankful and proud to be part of it.

Katie Horvath is the CEO of Naveego in Traverse City. Reach her at katie.horvath@naveego.com