Friday, February 01, 2008

Detroit Must Invest Out The Box To Survive by Akindele Akinyemi


Is Detroit investing in different options to develop the city? In a keynote address to delegates at the SIFE World Cup competition on entrepreneurship, Mr Jack Shewmaker, a former chief executive of Wal-Mart, America’s largest retail chain, said: “Entrepreneurs try easier, they do not try harder; entrepreneurship is about being smart.” To be successful, Shewmaker said, an entrepreneur needs to define what is around him without prejudice, then look at the global perspective in order to move on.

Individuals and countries ought to focus on the jobs of the future. We don’t need to invest time in protecting employees on the family and friends plan in the Mayor's office in Detroit. To an entrepreneur, there is no such a thing as a problem. Entrepreneurs have no time for negativism, there is no such thing as a problem; everything is just an opportunity. All that one needs to do is identify his goal and hold himself accountable. People must learn to move out of their comfort zones and take risks. Good entrepreneurs take the least traveled road; playing it safe will not spur prosperity in Detroit.

For Detroit, and by extension Michigan, entrepreneurship is understood to mean activities carried out by the illiterate and the uneducated. The education system is designed to produce workers and not innovators. Most people follow pre-set manuals to the already existing products that may not necessarily fit the needs of the city. Very few individuals are willing to risk and venture into the uncharted seas of economic opportunity. Arguments to the effect that the developed countries have flooded the markets of poor countries, thus stifling their creativity are not uncommon. This is by all counts a fallacy? In a continent where people fetch water from a river tens of kilometers away, children suffer malnutrition, diseases are rampant and people die of starvation every year, entrepreneurs shouldn't be a rare breed to find.

If one was to carry out a study on “political ownership” in Detroit, the reverse would be true. Common sense would hold that a poor city should have the majority of her intellectuals and thinkers focusing on wealth creating ventures. Not so in Detroit. It is true that the Detroit’s limited ability to access finance and human resources has largely chained him to low-level enterprises, but entrepreneurs are not known to give excuses. The few Detroiters who have accumulated capital have ended up in politics. Others have stuck in micro and small enterprises to escape taxation. You cannot tax success in order to build more success. Another reason why entrepreneurship in Detroit is low is because of government involvement. City government in Detroit are struggling to own businesses and corporations instead of getting them privatized so that they can be run by entrepreneurs.

The key to economic prosperity in Detroit is certainly the citizens here in Detroit. Left free to solve their own problems, free to choose solutions on their own, Detroiters will definitely turn poverty into opportunity. Detroiters must take responsibility and steer the city to greater heights of prosperity. This can be done through resolving the twin dilemmas facing the city on economic rights issues as concerns land and facilitating a more peaceful and productive way to solve the crisis. This can be done through reverting land owned by the government to a regional land bank(Wayne County has a land bank authority but not Detroit) as a transitional strategy towards individual ownership. Property ownership should be treated as sacred by law and must be respected by politicians. A greater drive towards individual ownership that respects gender, tribe and race must be prioritized.

Creating incentives for both local and foreign investors must be encouraged. To focus only on external investment may not necessarily create a critical mass of consumers needed to spur economic growth. Detroit needs to improve on her physical and legal infrastructure that can facilitate both an increase in production and consumption. The legal reform must ensure that contracts are enforced and disputes resolved in an efficient manner. Government to government aid has tended to promote the political industry as opposed to the productive manufacturing, agricultural and service industries critical to economic development. Ways should be explored to facilitate access to credit by innovators and business people in Detroit. Other than pushing for more aid in the form of revenue sharing, Detroiters should push towards access to technology that will promote food productivity, health and efficiency.

Self-confidence is a must if Detroit is to make progress. Lack of confidence not only compromises wealth creation but limits risk-taking, leading to many people sticking to comfort zones. For Detroit to develop, people must urgently seek to travel the least taken routes. Detroiters must promote intra-Africa trade in order to spur low-level production and consumption as a step towards international market entry.

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