National City Leads Community Should Follow

May 19, 2003
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National City Corp. last week clearly set a new definition and pace for leadership in this region.

The financial institution used its national network of venture capital funds to create a multi-million dollar pool aimed at hundreds of laid-off Pharmacia executives and scientists, who might continue to thrive on this end of the Life Sciences Corridor. It is historic, and unprecedented in West Michigan, where lack of venture capital funds has long been a sorry state of affairs.

The National City Life Science Fund Network is now part of the economic development group Southwest Michigan First's retention campaign. The brainstorm to prevent a brain drain came from National City Bank Michigan/Illinois President and CEO Tim Lathe, who notes, "We're not only a big business part of the community, but we employ 2,000 people directly in the Kalamazoo market and many more across the state. That loss would impact us personally and well as professionally."

Over the course of one weekend Lathe attracted the full attention of eight members of its national network, and "every one of them jumped at the opportunity." Lathe said, "There's a very real opportunity to make immediate connections here with very real people and very real products and processes."

Grand Rapids Business Journal May 5 in this space suggested this "mind field could be cultivated by investors" and advocated that local entrepreneurs and traditional "church basement" investors regard the Pharmacia/Pfizer layoffs as tremendous opportunities. Southwest Michigan First quickly needs to raise $25 million in local contributions to build a $150 million fund to bankroll startup businesses. The number of medical chemists, researchers and executives who attended business startup conferences last week in Kalamazoo showed the tip of the iceberg of talent and possibilities. Lathe also noted, " The business plans and the configuration of capital going into these companies is going to take all kinds of different forms."

GRBJ also would reiterate that area colleges and universities could play a significant role in the development of this incredible regional economic driver. The future of West Michigan is being invented.

National City's 20-year history in venture capital funds includes a subset of specialties in life sciences and technology. The leadership exhibited in its willingness to put its funds where it lives goes far beyond the now common offerings to charitable entities in exchange for marketing and naming rights. And doing the right thing without such attachments is a model of leadership deserving emulation.           

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