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Bill Myers, CEO of Promethient, shares why Traverse City’s Northern Michigan lifestyle is the cherry on top of its legacy of innovation
Bill Myers is a lifelong Michigander by choice, but also by chance. After his father passed away, he found a telegram sent in 1955 from a dean at Stanford University, recruiting his father to come to California to teach. Myers’ father declined the offer, choosing instead to remain in the Midwest work as a professor at Central Michigan University (CMU). With that one decision, Myers’ roots in Michigan were planted.
Myers grew up in Mount Pleasant and began college at CMU before transferring to Michigan Technological University to complete his degree in mechanical engineering. In his early career, he worked for Chrysler, pursued a master’s degree at Oakland University, and shifted from the automotive industry to sales and marketing. After living and working in central and southeast Michigan, Myers set his sights on Traverse City, where he’s worked and lived for over 25 years.
As CEO of Promethient, a Traverse City company specializing in solid state heating and cooling technology, since 2017, Myers has not only embraced the region’s manufacturing and tech ecosystem, but the area’s incomparable, Northern Michigan quality of life.
“There’s a lot of people in Traverse City that can really live anywhere, and they specifically choose to live here,” Myers said. “And so, it's got this amazing quality of life, which I think is not a secret anymore.”
One thing Myers learned after moving to Traverse City is that before it was a tourist destination, it was a manufacturing hub. Numerical control that is commonly used in industry for controlling machines was invented in Traverse City in the late 1940s, right after World War II. The helicopter blades that were used in helicopters in the Korean War in the 50s were made in Traverse City. The main engines that took the Saturn V rocket and astronauts to the moon in the late 1960s were made in Traverse City. It’s that legacy of game-changing manufacturing that companies like Promethient are benefitting from today.
Promethient was founded in Traverse City in 2012 by entrepreneur and inventor Charles Cauchy, who created the patented Thermavance technology currently being built in the region. The technology involves a thermoelectric device, a special kind of semiconductor, that can do heating and cooling. By using graphene, an allotrope of carbon with three times the thermal conductivity of copper, the heating and cooling created by the thermoelectric device can be spread over a larger area.
The company was ready to demonstrate its technology to customers in the beginning of 2020 when the world shut down due to COVID-19. For a year and a half, the company couldn’t visit customer facilities and didn’t attend trade shows. With support from statewide resources through the MEDC, Promethient was able to make up for lost time by traveling abroad for large industry trade shows.
Thermavance technology is available in a variety of power sports products from Polaris and is also being marketed by a stadium seat manufacturer. Promethient is currently targeting premium seating applications, but Myers says the company is excited about the upside potential for usage in construction equipment, agricultural equipment, car seats for kids, golf carts and more.
Traverse City is the optimal place for companies like Promethient to succeed according to Myers, thanks to the area’s “great spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship.” That includes business incubator 20 Fathoms, which engages with the area’s entrepreneur community to get more startups off the ground, as well as partnerships with Michigan Tech to attract tech startups and working with local community colleges and K-12 schools. Myers says it’s important to get young people into STEM fields to help build the next generation of inventors and innovators.
Myers is actively involved in the Traverse City-based nonprofit organization Newton’s Road, which markets STEM skills to kids and in rural communities, sparking students’ curiosity and exposing them to STEM-related careers. Through the organization’s Career Investigator portal, Myers says local students can explore STEM-based jobs available from local employers and learn what kind of education is necessary to prepare for those opportunities.
“I think that is important for us to look at in terms of investment in our community and sustaining this innovation that we want to have in the Grand Traverse region, and also the entire state of Michigan,” Myers said.
Beyond its legacy of innovative thinking and “contagious entrepreneurial energy,” what keeps Myers in Michigan – and Traverse City in particular – is a deep love for the state.