Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A New Attitude

Last week, I read an opinion piece that was simultaneously realistic and optimistic about the role of attitude in Michigan's economic turnaround. For a few minutes, I had hope for our state.

"Nonetheless, the tie between prosperity and attitude seems to be strong, even symbiotic. As we remained walled in our rust-belt prison, we might remember that we have the will, the brains, the drive and the money to turn our state around and reclaim our position of global pre-eminence. We might expedite the process of recovery by talking loudly about our dreams, our prospects and our new love for risk taking."

The author, Jim Hettinger, is a Michigan native and has been CEO with Battle Creek Unlimited , a private, non-profit economic development organization since 1978. We spoke today about Michigan's economic prospects in context of its past and present conditions.

Regarding the pervasive negative press about Michigan, Hettinger said this is quite harmful and just adds fuel to the fire where attitude is concerned. I asked if he had suggestions for creating a new vision for Michigan. He responded that such a vision needs to come from Lansing, but that we aren't well served by "getting swept up in big trends. Communities need to find their strategic local competencies; to find a niche--what nobody else is doing." Cultivating local identity is a part of this. He added, "Finding the niche needs to happen at all levels."

But as Michigan transitions away from primary dependence on manufacturing, former factory workers will need to find their way to personal empowerment, independence and responsibility for their futures. "We have been in a giant paternalistic environment for the last 50 to 60 years," Hettinger said. This was cultivated by corporations, big unions and now, in part by large foundations. The antidote, he added is to, "get people on the edge where creativity and survival instincts come into play."

He believes Lansing needs to play a role in this, as well: "We need to create arranged spontaneity by bringing together different people and groups with similar interests and then let nature take its course."

BCU KnowledgeNow!
, a business information portal created by Battle Creek Unlimited, endeavors to do that by gathering and making available information resources to facilitate economic development.

Hettinger works and lives in Michigan by choice. I asked him what gives him hope for Michigan's future. He listed three key elements. He said that with strategic deployment of new technology, a fast turn around is possible. Although our education system needs updating, he estimates that it is still globally competitive. And last, the Great Lakes are an asset beyond tourism, that he believes need protection.

Don't lose hope, Michiganders. Reach out, help each other, take some risks, and believe in your ability to create sustainable communities. And stop being so partisan.