Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Global Vision For Detroit Will Help Build Innovation by Akindele Akinyemi

The City of Detroit is in a position to transform itself into a modern day financial and global hub for commerce, trade and development. However, business and governmental leaders in both our city and region face a destructive social backlash that could foment political instability and reverse the trend towards becoming part of the global community if they fail to develop effective solutions to the current economic and educational crisis.

However, the leadership we need to implement must reflect this. This is why I will continue to support Mayor Dave Bing and his efforts to move Detroit into the global market. We simply do not have a choice. I will also support candidates who can demonstrate that they have a working knowledge of global issues that they can connect with both Detroit and the region.

In order for Detroit to compete globally we need to look at redesigning our economic growth model. When I attended the candidate forum last night at the Detroit Urban League I did not hear anything about policies, industries or cultural shifts that are needed to develop an alternative to Detroit's economic growth model other than relying on the State of Michigan for revenue sharing.

To begin with this process regional business leaders need to understand what the new environment will look like. The economy before the financial crisis was not “normal” and will not return to that situation. There was an extreme expansion of credit that will not be repeated.

For companies to thrive in the post-crisis era here in Detroit and throughout the region, innovation must be the key. Innovation is the essence of value creation, and the ability to reinvent business models. When companies diversify, the businesses should complement each other and allow for innovation. There is also need for new business models. Consumers are challenging the old model. Today’s consumer is setting a new standard, looking for new products and new ways of buying things. This is creating a transformation agenda for businesses in meeting this need.

The appropriate business model depends on the situation. Whether a company should be diversified or focused, that is completely up to them. It needs to be what fits and works. But it is clear that if a company is not successful in one market it is unlikely that it will be successful in others. And for diversification to work, the company cannot have a “top-down” centralized model – flexibility and some decentralization are needed.

Organic growth is always the strongest way for a company to grow, but acquisitions are the quickest way to get there. However, mergers and acquisitions need to be done right. Some Metro Detroit companies have expanded internationally, but not all stories have a happy ending. They have found that there is just as must potential to destroy value as to create value. Issues such as higher labor costs and major cultural differences in Metro Detroit and elsewhere are difficult to overcome. All risks need to be considered, and there has to be an underlying purpose for acquiring a company. It needs to link to the overall strategy and what value it will bring. Size itself is not enough to do this. Following mergers, companies then need to be aggressive about driving integration.

Another thing that Detroit and the rest of the region must understand is how our educational system must become more aligned with the skills required by industry.

The current K-16 system both statewide and worldwide is under pressure, and a shift of values is necessary if education systems are to be made ready for the next wave of economic growth. The greatest need is to correct the mismatch between what students study and what the market demands. To help solve the mismatch, the private sector needs to be brought into the process of curriculum development to create a balance.

Urban school districts such as the Detroit, Inkster, River Rouge, Muskegon and Benton Harbor continue to lag behind developed countries when it comes to entrepreneurial activity, mostly due to heavy bureaucracy. Creating a more enabling environment will help them overcome this problem. Cultivating entrepreneurship among students will equip them to go beyond being employees by becoming employers. Entrepreneurship must therefore be made an acceptable career choice.

Of primary importance is adding soft skills to the hard skills that 2-4 year education institutions currently teach. The private sector currently complains that graduates are unable to make and execute decisions, work in teams, communicate, and turn information into knowledge and wisdom. Furthermore, some struggle to even use basic computer programs.

Taking teaching outside the classroom will help students to learn and discover more. This will make their education more real and the lessons longer-lasting. Basing education institutions on values, with a shared mission, will help teachers and professors to adapt their programs to meet their overall objectives. Meanwhile, funding will reward those providing relevant programs with measurable outcomes.

The basic operating principles of the private sector can be transferred to the education system, to ensure it meets the ever-changing needs of the market. Deregulation and competition will ensure educational institutions produce better results and more graduates that are employable. A mixture of public and private funding will in turn help maintain overall levels of innovation.

An educational system that is effective from K-16 as well as innovation will help merge Detroit with the rest of the tri-country area here in Southeast Michigan. Candidates who are running for office here in Detroit and other urban areas must promote regional cooperation. This is important because it will help to offer residents many amenities and can make life easier. If our region is to become home to some of the world’s population, our problems must be addressed. Solving the problems of our region and urban cities will go a long way to addressing the world’s problems.

City leaders in Detroit must move towards a global community. Period. Our lifestyle choices and expectations will determine how Detroit and the rest of the region will develop in the future. Mass transit with light rail,while reducing personal traffic, congestion and sometimes pollution, will encourage and enables urban sprawl. Allowing Wayne RESA to run failing school districts such as the Detroit Public Schools would be revolutionary. A more diverse community in areas like Detroit would help integrate our school system.

Some argue for taking a more local approach to city life, suggesting living, working and playing within the same general area, thus reducing the environmental impact and possibly improving the quality of life.

Detroit will not become a global city until we elect, support and produce global visionaries who will move us towards globalization in our community. Keeping the status quo of leadership and their rhetoric will simply not work.

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