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Donald Welch named Grant Thornton Leader & Innovator of the Year

Release Date: April 22, 2010

Southfield, Michigan – Donald J. Welch, Jr., president and CEO of Merit Network, Inc. in Ann Arbor has been named Grant Thornton Leader & Innovator of the Year.

The award was announced at an April 22 reception at Lawrence Technological University, which co-sponsors the award along with Grant Thornton LLP and WWJ NewsRadio 950. Welch was chosen from among 46 nominees profiled during the past 12 months on the radio station’s daily e-newsletter, the Great Lakes Innovation and Technology Report (GLITR).

The Leaders & Innovators program was developed by Lawrence Tech to recognize Michigan business executives who have demonstrated unique abilities or created unique products. The profiles that appear on Tuesdays in GLITR are edited by Matt Roush, who served as the MC at the reception.

Since 2006, Welch has been the leader of Merit Network, Inc., a nonprofit, member-owned organization formed in 1966. It developed the statewide backbone network that makes high-speed data networking available to all of Michigan’s universities, and many of its colleges and community colleges, schools, libraries, and research organizations. Merit provides connections to and from the global Internet for users at these organizations.

Merit was one of the first “regional” networks in the country that joined together in the mid-1980s to develop the national backbone infrastructure that we know today as the Internet.

Under Welch’s leadership, Merit has increased staff from 42 to 70, and turned a10 percent annual decline in revenue to a 20 percent annual gain, while reducing prices 25 percent. Merit has started offering “cloud” services, launched services out of state, increased its national presence, and expanded professional services and learning programs.

This year, Merit won a $33.3 million Federal Stimulus grant towards a $41.6 million project to build 955 miles of network infrastructure throughout rural areas of Michigan. It was one of the first six projects awarded out of 2,200 applications.

Merit is also among seven commercial providers in a second round application for an $87.7 million grant for a 1,270-mile fiber build in northern Michigan.

Prior to joining Merit, Welch was director of enterprise technology and merchandising applications for H-E-B, a $12 billion retailer in Texas and Mexico.

He served for 25 years in the U.S. Army, attaining the rank of colonel. His last Army assignment was as the associate dean for information technology and professor of computer science at West Point. Welch built West Point’s wireless network, one of the first large and secure wireless networks, which was the recipient of a Computerworld “best practices in mobile and wireless” award for security.  He also received the Apgar award for innovation in classroom teaching.

Among other Army assignments, Welch was the chief of software engineering for the Army’s counterterrorist unit, Delta Force. In this role he oversaw the integration of numerous applications into an enterprise database as well as pioneering technologies such as global positioning system (GPS) and digital maps. At the start of his Army career he commanded two light infantry companies and three infantry platoons.

Welch holds degrees from the United States Military Academy at West Point and California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He earned his Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Maryland, College Park.

The following executives were profiled by GLITR during the past 12 months:

Jim Anderson, President and Founder, Urban Science Inc.
David Ballenberger, President, NextStep Solutions Inc.
Terry Bean, Founder, Network Inc. and Motor City Connect
Paul Bryant, Partner, Plante & Moran PLLC
Alex Burkulas, Founder and President, Cygnus Systems Inc.
Robert Capinjola, President and Founder, TruArx
Keith Cooley, President and CEO, NextEnergy
Frank DeLaura, Co-Founder, Executive Vice President and COO, United Physicians PC
Lisa Diggs, Owner, The Catalyst Company
Mike Dolkowski, CEO, Carbon Credit Environmental Services
Rachele Downs, Vice President, CB Richard Ellis
Gregory W. Fisher, Founder and CEO, Fisher Coachworks LLC
Tel Ganesan, Founder and President, Vision Tech Solutions
Gary Glick, Founder and Chief Science Officer, Lycera Corp.
Terry Grimm, Founder and President, Niowave Inc.
Ken Gross, Managing Shareholder, Thav Gross Steinway & Bennett
A. George Hebel III, Chairman, President and CEO, Bonal Technologies Inc.
Carrie Hensel, Managing Partner and Creative Director, Inner Circle Media
Sam Joseph, Executive Director, Covenant House Michigan
Krishna Kallakuri, Founding Partner and Vice President, Tera Networks Inc.
Nancy Kaufman, Director, Kaufman Children’s Center for Speech, Language, Sensory-Motor, and Social Connections Inc.
Fred Keller, Chairman and CEO, Cascade Engineering
Thomas Kienbaum, Partner and Co-Founder, Kienbaum Opperwall Hardy & Pelton P.L.C.
Dennis King, Corporate Chairman and CEO, Harley Ellis Devereaux Corp.
Kevin Lasser, CEO, Encryption Security Solutions and Pure Entropy Technologies
Maxine Lauer, Founder, CEO and President, Sphere Trending
Steve LeBeau, President and CEO, Thixomat Inc.
Robert McCann, President, Bright House Networks
Linda McFarland, Founder, President and CEO, Classic Computer Recovery Inc.
David Mielke, Dean, College of Business, Eastern Michigan University
Nader Najafi, CEO and President, Integrated Sensing Systems Inc.
Patricia Nemeth, Founding Partner, Nemeth Burwell P.C.
Yan Ness, CEO, Online Technologies Corp.
Charles Newman, Founder, CEO and President, ReCellular Inc.
Sean Reed, Founder and Executive Director, Clean Energy Coalition
Stephen Sadler, President and CEO, Scate Technologies Inc.
David Saroli, Founder and CEO, Osiris Innovations Group LLC
Mark Shobe, President and CEO, Dearborn Federal Credit Union
Jake Sigal, Founder and CEO, Myine Electronics, LLC
Dave Simon, President, ilumisys Inc.
Peter Stevenson, COO and Managing Director, RTT USA Inc.
John Thomas, Founder and CEO, ALTe LLC
Joseph Vig, President and CEO, J.S. Vig Construction Company
Bill Wagner, Co-Founder, SRT Solutions
Lisa Webb Sharpe, Director, Michigan Department of Management and Budget
Donald Welch, President and CEO, Merit Network Inc.

Lawrence Technological University,, offers more than 100 undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degree programs in Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Management. Founded in 1932, the 4,500-student, private university pioneered evening classes and today has a growing number of weekend and online programs. Lawrence Tech’s 102-acre campus is in Southfield, and programs are also offered in Detroit, Lansing, Petoskey and Traverse City. Lawrence Tech also offers programs with partner universities in Canada, Mexico, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.