Innovation Straight Out of… Ann Arbor

July 15, 2016
Beth Evegan

Ann Arbor, Mich., well known for top-tier collegiate academics and sports teams, may not be the first place many think of when asked to name a technology innovation hub. Larger, more established markets like Silicon Valley, New York, Los Angeles and even Austin, Texas would likely be named first.

However, a technology revival is starting in Ann Arbor. The neighboring city of Detroit has rightfully received more of the revival attention of late, but Ann Arbor has quietly made strides to breathe a different life into this quaint city.

TD Ameritrade is one of several tech-focused companies that have put down roots in Ann Arbor over the last few years. The Fresh Accounts staff recently sat down with director of advanced technology, chief technology officer, Ford veteran, and one of the company’s first Ann Arbor hires, Stephen Lang, to find out “why Ann Arbor?”

Who sits in the Ann Arbor office?

We are a technology center, focusing on advanced technology and innovation, with other specializations in data & analytics and personalization.

We currently have two application development teams supporting our desktop trading platform, thinkorswim, and we also have employees working on mobile, production support and our digital-guidance efforts for long-term investors.

What is the vision for the Ann Arbor team?

We want to expand our talent and capabilities by offering challenging and rewarding technology and financial careers. We want this group to help TD Ameritrade grow as a leader in technology and trading.

Why did you choose Ann Arbor over Silicon Valley, Austin or even Detroit?

Being close to the University of Michigan and having access to everything that goes into that community is great. It helps provide new ideas. We’re even getting involved in university programs.

There are also a lot of startups [in the area]. and it has an up-and-coming vibe. Google is out here. There is a great, small town community-feel, and it was a perfect fit.

User Experience Design Specialist Mandy Wortz is one such member of the TD Ameritrade team who chose to stay in Ann Arbor after college, rather than seek out opportunities on the West Coast.

“Ann Arbor is a charming town where there’s always something to do, great food and plenty of natural beauty at your fingertips,” she says. “It has the cultural diversity of a big city without the traffic, congestion or long commute times.

“It’s also a highly educated city. I attended the University of Michigan, with an abundance of opportunity, and I worked alongside a host of intelligent people. After interviewing with early leaders of TD Ameritrade’s Ann Arbor office, I knew they were building something special, and I wanted to be a part of it. The opportunity has given me a chance to be part of an innovative culture that strives daily to build experiences that delight our clients.”

How do you plan to attract talent from even outside the state?

Most of the people that work here now are from Michigan, but we are seeing more choose to relocate from out of state.

We’re networking through local alumni organizations, using our talent acquisition resources, and trying to get involved with specialized events. For example, over Thanksgiving [2015] all of the area startups hosted a social event called “Tech Homecoming” where we engage with those coming home for the long holiday weekend.

It’s a strategy that works. Software Development Manager Nathanael Ferrero chose to relocate back to Ann Arbor after spending three years in Los Angeles.

“I decided to move back to my home state of Michigan, specifically Ann Arbor,” he says. “There’s always something going on after work in the tech community, with plenty of meetups and learning opportunities. As a bonus, housing is one third the cost of Southern California, and my new mortgage payment is far less than a studio apartment in Los Angeles.”

We asked for final thoughts from Stephen Lang. What is your vision for the Ann Arbor office over the next six months, year or even five years?

In the physical sense, we’ve outgrown our existing office space, so in six months we’ll be in a new location, which will give us more breathing room. It’s two blocks from our current site, right in downtown Ann Arbor. We’re continually looking for expertise to support the fast pace of growth required to maintain our trading and investing platforms. Beyond that I look forward to seeing the new, innovative projects our teams will bring to life.

Community is also very important to us. We want to be an active member of the Ann Arbor community and contribute to locally-driven innovation.

It’s an exciting time to be here, and we couldn’t be more excited to be a part of it.