Economic recovery boxed up by border herders

June 1, 2009
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The Detroit Regional Chamber annual policy conference on Mackinac Island opened amid increasing likelihood that General Motors Corp. would file for bankruptcy, and by week’s end that appeared to be a certainty. Suppliers Visteon and Metaldyne made such a filing as automotive suppliers across the state considered the same fate, even while federal stimulus funds promised in March are tied up in bureaucratic red tape.

That is not enough in this “pleasant peninsula”: The mayor of Warren offered GM a “deal” to move its emptying headquarters to his town, out of the towering Renaissance Center that is Detroit’s visual moniker (evidently, he is still miffed that CompuWare left for Detroit’s downtown). GM employees in Grand Blanc were posting on the Internet their resistance to any move to the Ren Cen.

Meanwhile, the Michigan Senate passed a “Cobo” funding package to renovate the center in order to maintain the destination for the International Auto Show and prevent it moving to another state (or country), but only under the auspices of a five-member regional authority. Detroit’s new mayor, Dave Bing, and the city’s four Democratic senators demanded that the city retain ownership of Cobo Hall, and that Detroit businesses be given preference for renovation work. Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson stood on his stump to disclaim Detroit’s demands and offered to use the money to renovate Rock Financial Center conference facility. And while Rome burned …

The scare east of Lansing is that every community is too close to Detroit and is tainted with the perception of bleakness and failure. In truth, we are all too close to Detroit and suffer degrees of condemnation based on what happens there.

It is obvious to all — except elected “leaders” — that the future will be built on the back of private enterprise across this state. The Detroit Free Press late last week quoted GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz: “We will pass through the cleansing fire of a radical restructuring either in court or out of court in the next few days.”

Indeed.

The headlines bearing the Detroit dateline this week will likely not include the ambitious and productive planning that provides improvement of the “research corridor” between University of Michigan and Wayne State University; they will not exclaim the opportunities provided in plans for Wayne County’s aerotropolis or plans for rail service. Few know of the $100 million New Economy Initiative created by 10 (mostly) Michigan-based foundations to seed entrepreneurship and create 400 new companies.

The Mackinac policy conference opened with a panel of business representatives from West (and East) Michigan and attendee contemplation of the public-private partnerships that relaunched Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and Battle Creek. Conference reporting was shared in www.Bridging96.com, the joint biweekly publication of Grand Rapids Business Journal and Crain’s Detroit Business. By week’s end the assembled business and community leaders declared economic development was not the purview of elected officials, and reiterated the power of business, college and university and philanthropic leaders in a united effort to restructure. That effort does not know governmental boundary; in fact, that is what stops it.

Perhaps the Phoenix has Red Wings to help this state see above the fire.

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