Time for action is now
March 19th, 2007Naysayers and optimists please unite! The state's future and the hope for a vibrant economy are at stake. For the past few years, this Foundation has been a strong supporter of community economic development - neighborhood revitalization, micro loans, creating affordable housing options, helping with facade and other improvements for neighborhood business districts and much more.
Plus we have supported macro level economic development strategies - focusing primarily on the metropolitan Grand Rapids community.
All that said, our neighboring community foundations have been actively involved as well. In particular the Kalamazoo Community Foundation and the Community Foundation for Muskegon County. I applaud my colleagues as they are in it for the long haul as we are as well.
Philanthropists and foundations and all funding organizations have participated on various levels trying turn around the waning economy. We know that new industries and business lines are needed that are not necessarily manufacturing based and depend a great deal on innovation and knowledge. Lou Glazer, the head of the think tank Michigan Future, Inc., has been writing about this for years! And yet how to do this has eluded us across our state.
What is frustrating to many though is the fact there is no one clear solution for what is happening in Michigan. No region is immune from the ravages of companies leaving, people being laid off, real estate values leveling off or even decreasing, and many other indicators of a faltering economy.
I am not an expert in economic development but I am a great learner and I have been researching and reading about what tools are available that just may have a positive impact. And I know to go to the right people and ask their opinion and develop possible strategies to really get things moving.
I know that One D as it is called is mounting a collaborative effort to provide the impetus for innovation and development in Southeast Michigan. The promise is to transform the region through aligning private, public and nonprofits sectors to the priorities that area is developing.
Here in West Michigan, we are moving together as well through the area Chambers of Commerce, the Right Place, Inc., the West Michigan Strategic Alliance, the community foundations in Muskegon, Grand Haven, Holland/Zeeland, Greenville, Fremont and Grand Rapids. It is going to take cooperation and not competition.
I was surprised to read in the Detroit papers last week that the presidents of the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University proclaimed that they could solve the problems of Michigan's economy. I have to admit . . . my first thought was "where have you been?" While these universities are some of the finest in the country and beyond, I am a bit taken by the bravado but perhaps that what it is going to take . . . bravado and guts. But it is going to take time. Time that frankly we may not have.
The dream that the Pfizer researchers and scientists are going to become our next wave of entrepreneurs is a good dream . . . but how does one become an entrepreneur as it is more about behavior and creating the right environment to nurture this is critical.
I am not sitting back - I'm just trying to decipher the puzzle that this situation presents. Work force development efforts, retraining, promising college education for all, venture capital, etc, etc, etc.
As today's (March 6, 2007) editorial in The Grand Rapids Press notes:
"The single most important thing policy makers can do for the future economic success of Michigan and its regions is to ensure the long-term success of a vibrant and agile higher education system. Our higher education institutions -- both universities and community colleges -- are the most important assets we have in developing the concentration of talent we need to be successful in a knowledge-based economy. This is particularly true of our major research universities.
We also need to start investing again in building regions that are attractive places to live, particularly for mobile talent. This means providing quality basic services, world class infrastructure and, maybe most importantly, creating vibrant central city neighborhoods to attract young talent."
It is going to take the spirit of cooperation and the courage to envision a state that captures the same spirit it had a century ago when we reigned supreme with the automobile, furniture manufacturing, and related industries. Or perhaps we need to be audacious and develop the environment that values knowledge and innovation and risk taking . . . leading the way in an area or areas that have yet to be defined. More to come.