Interview with Joel Tauber At Techonomy Detroit 2013

I attended Techonomy Detroit again this year and my interview with Joel Tauber, one of the speakers at the conference, was published in this week’s Detroit Jewish News:‘TECHONOMY’ CONFAB INSPIRES JOEL TAUBER

The recent Techonomy conference on the campus of Wayne State University was not much different than last year’s event, the first of its kind here in the Motor City. Tech leaders and business icons from around the country converged on Detroit for a series of conversations and workshops discussing how technology and innovation can boost American economic growth, job creation and urban revival.

This year’s conference emphasized the national challenge of inadequate and inequitable education. Speakers discussed the role of entrepreneurs and industry, as well as how technology can be creatively applied to help revive America’s physical and social urban infrastructure, to reignite competitiveness and economic growth.

The majority of the speakers were under age 45 and so it is noteworthy that one of the Detroit Jewish community’s major philanthropists and a world-renowned business leader was one of the panelists. Among the prominent speakers at Techonomy, such as Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson, Quicken CEO Dan Gilbert and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (@onetoughnerd), was Joel Tauber.

Detroit Technologist and Philanthropist Joel Tauber (Courtesy of Techonomy - photo by Asa Mathat)

Detroit Technologist and Philanthropist Joel Tauber (Courtesy of Techonomy – photo by Asa Mathat)

Tauber, founder of Tauber Enterprises, has been involved in Jewish philanthropy for more than five decades, serving as president of the Jewish Federation, chairman of the United Jewish Communities and vice chairman of the United Jewish Appeal Young Leadership Cabinet. At the University of Michigan, he created the Tauber Institute for Global Operations, which was why he was included at the event.

Joining Nolan Finley, editorial page editor and columnist for the Detroit News, Felix Ortiz, the founder, chairman and chief product officer at Viridis Learning Inc., and Carol Williams, executive vice president of Dow Manufacturing & Engineering, Tauber’s panel was titled “Where Are the Jobs?” and was moderated by Susan Lund of the McKinsey Global Institute.

The premise of Tauber’s panel was that many jobs are being created in Detroit through the technology boom, but many unemployed Detroiters are not qualified for these jobs — a skills mismatch. As Finley put it, “We could get 5,000 of these high-tech jobs and drop them in Detroit tomorrow, and it’s not going to have a major impact on Detroit unemployment because Detroiters aren’t prepared for those jobs.”

Despite having pneumonia during Techonomy, Tauber was one of the more interesting speakers at the conference. I had the chance to talk with him afterward and learn how he was inspired by the conference and believes that Detroit can learn a lot about job creation in the technology field from Israel. We spoke about Detroit’s financial struggles, how becoming a technology hub will impact the Downtown sector and his assessment of our educational system.

Courtesy of Techonomy - (photo by Asa Mathat

Courtesy of Techonomy – (photo by Asa Mathat

 

One-On-One Conversation

Q: As you said, your 50 years of experience are from the basic smokestack industry and not high-tech, but how do you see Detroit’s tech industry turning the beleaguered city around?

Tauber: I have an understanding of manufacturing. You can come up with all the high-tech you want, but you need infrastructure to make it happen. We have to change our education system. And if we’re seriously going to have employees that can support technology, we have to begin to teach differently.

For the worker, we have to turn from words to action because there are solutions out there in technical schools. In Europe, the technical schools do quite well. College education is revered here in America whereas technical education is well regarded in Europe. In the U.S., high school kids either go to college or nothing. They’re great candidates for technical schools. The Tauber Institute at U-M combines engineering and business, offering a master’s program. We’ve had 1,000 graduates in the first 20 years of the program. The things taught there are what the Internet economy needs.

These are the kinds of students you want. One hundred percent of the students in our program get employed with six-figure salaries. The Tauber Institute should be a model for other universities. Only MIT and Northwestern offers such programs.

Q: You’ve been very involved in Israel’s business community. After Gov. Snyder’s recent mission to the region, how do you see potential trade relations affecting Detroit’s economy?

Tauber: I saw the transition in Israel firsthand. They became the third-largest contributor to technology in the world. I’m an investor in several high-tech startups in Israel, and it amazes me. Before the economic downfall, there were two or three Israeli high-tech companies that moved to Michigan to manufacture close to the auto industry. Detroit is a fertile area for Gov. Snyder and Israeli industries to strengthen our local economy.

Israel has great ideas; however, what they develop can’t be used in Israel — not enough people there. They have to bring it to the U.S. or Europe. Snyder’s going there might give Michigan first choice with some of these high-tech and bio-medical companies. Other relationships could develop here in Detroit that could expand the ideas that come out of Israel. The country’s so full of ideas it’s unbelievable. There’s unlimited opportunity.

Q: Will Detroit recover and how long will it take?

Tauber: I was here when Detroit was great. I used to go Downtown all the time by streetcar. And then I watched it decline. It’s very depressing. Then the auto industry went down and our city went from 2 million people to 700,000, and that eventually took us to bankruptcy. It was very difficult to put the city in bankruptcy, but it had to be done if we’re going to climb out of it and become a fine city again.

I’m thrilled to see the kind of things happening — I love what the entrepreneurs are doing Downtown. They’re doing a fantastic job. Today, all throughout the city you see vibrancy… I hope that the entrepreneurs don’t lose interest and that their capital holds out. This is not a three-, five-, or 10-year change around. The kind of change I see is going to take 20 years, and we will once again become an exciting city. The elements are occurring now and bankruptcy was part of that. Now it’s time for a new beginning.

Q: What inspired you at Techonomy?

Tauber: Just walking the conference was electric. People were excited. Six hundred interesting people with great ideas and a lot of cross fertilization. I was at the dinner the night before for the speakers, and the meeting and mentoring was terrific. What goes on outside the meetings is more important than the actual sessions — that’s where the relationships are developed. You could feel the buzz in the halls. I said, “This is Detroit?”

Listen to Joel Tauber’s session at Techonomy Detroit.

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This blog looks at how modern technology affects Jewish life, particularly the impact of the Internet on Jews across the globe. The Internet has made the Jewish community seem smaller. The Jewish Techs blog, written by blogger Rabbi Jason Miller (The Techie Rabbi), explores the places where Jewish culture, education and faith intersect with technology. Of course, like anything, Jews will continue to ask if technology is good or bad for the Jews – the age old question of our people. Good or bad, it is undisputed that technology has changed Jewish life. If you’re Jewish or interested in technology or both… you’ll enjoy the conversation. Thanks for reading the Jewish Techs blog.

The Techie Rabbi – Rabbi Jason Miller

Rabbi Jason Miller, the Techie RabbiJason Miller is NOT your typical rabbi. Known as the Techie Rabbi, he launched Access Computer Technology in 2010 and has grown it into a full-scale technology firm that provides social media marketing consulting and web design in addition to IT support. Ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary a decade ago, Rabbi Jason has made a name for himself as a popular blogger, social media expert, educator and entrepreneur. Based in Detroit, his congregation includes more than a million people who read his blog and follow him in Cyberspace. He began the Jewish Techs blog in January 2010 as the New York Jewish Week's technology expert.

An entrepreneurial rabbi and an alum of Clal's "Rabbi Without Borders" fellowship, Jason Miller is a rabbi and thought leader whose personal blog has been viewed by millions. The Detroit Free Press called him “the most tech-savvy Jewish leader" and the Huffington Post ranked him among the top Jewish Twitter users in the world. A social media expert, Rabbi Jason is a popular speaker and writer on technology and its effect on the Jewish world. He writes the "Jewish Techs" blog for The Jewish Week and the monthly "Jews in the Digital Age" column for the Detroit Jewish News.

Miller won the 2012 Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award from the West Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce and is one of the winners of a Jewish Influencer award from the National Jewish Outreach Program.