Mobility is a blessing and curse for Ann Arbor’s mobile movement

Mobility is simultaneously the most exciting and disquieting trait of the mobile software movement.

As the Ann Arbor region’s budding mobile software industry takes root, a key challenge is immediately obvious: These are companies that Ann Arbor can carefully nurture only to see them leave in an instant, departing for competing metropolitan regions.

That explains why groups like Ann Arbor’s new Mobile Monday group are so important to creating a vibrant community of mobile app developers and startup companies that feel connected and invested in our region.

Former Boston app developer Keith Bourne joined with Linda Daichendt and Dave Koziol to form the Mobile Monday group, which held its first official meeting July 19 as part of a national organization.

(Since the meeting, which drew about 25 people, was held at the same time as the annual Townie Street Party for longtime Ann Arborites, we’ll call it an alternative townie party for future Ann Arborites.)

The vision for the monthly meetings is to hasten the growth of the local mobile software industry by providing networking opportunities and creating awareness about the issues confronting app developers.

“I thought something like this would help keep it going,” said Bourne, an independent app developer, of the local industry. “You’ve got the beginnings of something really great here. It’s an area that I have a lot of interest in, and so I wanted to make sure that while I have some spare time, I’m helping to get this whole thing together so it supports the field.”

Among Bourne’s first goals for the group is creating an online resource for local mobile software companies to find talented employees.

Software experts familiar with app development for Apple’s iPhone and iPad, Google’s Android operating system and Research In Motion’s BlackBerry have a distinct advantage in landing jobs.

Companies like Ann Arbor-based travel app firm Mobiata, which topped $1 million in revenue in 2009, are aggressively seeking mobile software talent. Founder Ben Kazez is spending a huge chunk of his time on recruiting and expects to have 18 employees by the end of the year.

“They’re looking for people to hire, so we want to create an environment to help them do that,” Bourne said. “There’s a lot of companies right now looking to hire, not just startups like Mobiata, but established companies that are looking for mobile developers.”

Mobiata’s mobility has boosted Ann Arbor. But that could also hurt us, too.

The company moved from Minnesota to Ann Arbor in early 2009 specifically because of the quality of life and talent in Ann Arbor. But Kazez recently told the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal that he would consider moving the company back to Minnesota at some point.

Some of Mobiata’s employees are working from outside of Michigan – including University of Michigan graduate Jason Bornhorst, who’s currently based in Austin, Texas.

Mobile software companies can do business from anywhere. One of the only reasons they move to a specific location is because of the quality of life and the ability to hire talented local employees.

Groups like Mobile Monday could help companies like Mobiata find the employees they need, thereby increasing the chances that we’ll keep them here.

“For this type of group to have people gathered based on a common goal, we all benefit from it,” said Angela Kujava, a cofounder of the networking group YP Underground and marketing director for Ann Arbor-based software consultancy Logic Solutions.

“And I believe Michigan’s economy as a whole is going to benefit from this collaboration and this willingness to embrace new technology, which in two years won’t be new technology.”

Contact AnnArbor.com’s Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or nathanbomey@annarbor.com. You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com’s newsletters.

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About MTAM

MTAM is a non-profit trade association for Michigan’s mobile / wireless (connected) technologies industry and businesses in all industries utilizing those technologies. We are the first state-based mobile/wireless industry trade association in the U.S., and our mission is: • to facilitate conversation/collaboration between varied sectors of the mobile/wireless eco-system; serve as the bridge to enable diverse organizations to understand each other’s perspectives and needs in order to drive new innovation and opportunities involving these technologies; • to increase the use of, and demand for, Michigan-based mobile/wireless technology products and services in-state, nationally and globally; • to increase the productivity and profitability of every industry vertical in Michigan via the use of these technologies; • to create sustainable jobs and increased entrepreneurial opportunities in the state based on the use of these technologies, thereby achieving substantial growth of Michigan’s economy; • and to help the communities we serve via the use of these technologies. We are also the statewide producer of Mobile Monday Michigan – a mobile / wireless industry networking and education organization which is a branch of the international Mobile Monday organization based in Finland. Here in Michigan we currently have 4 chapters (Detroit, Ann Arbor, Lansing and Grand Rapids) with over 3000+ members statewide.
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