Prior to seven months ago, I had never spent more than two consecutive nights in Michigan. Today, after spending the bulk of my career in Washington, D.C., serving Senator Bob Packwood and both presidents named Bush, I find myself leading the chamber of commerce in Detroit - one of the nation's largest. Why Detroit? Why Michigan? The answer is simple; the challenges faced by this great American city and this storied state are the precursor to the challenges of our nation. As goes Michigan goes America.
While the national media depiction of Detroit is sensationalized, there is no doubt that we face challenges. Once a top 10 state in just about every measure, we are now one of the poorest states - Alabama will surpass us in per capita income. The City of Detroit was once the wealthiest city in America - and the ghosts of our previous wealth waif through the air as a reminder of what once was.
Michigan has been written off by many - and that is a mistake. A mistake because the assets of this region are tremendous and unsung. A mistake because despite my years working at a national level, I have never seen a citizenry more devoted and dedicated to their home - and now committed to its turnaround. A mistake because America should pay attention to the lessons of Michigan to avoid copying the state's mistakes at the national level. Here's why Michigan matters:
Beginning in 1990's both Republicans and Democrats confused financial engineering with real engineering. We equated the making of money with wealth creation. While the robustness of our financial markets is a good thing and benefited families at all levels, it does not have the same economic ripple benefits of the manufacturing enterprise. From R&D to production to logistic to marketing, the manufacturing enterprise touches multiple industries, disciplines and workforce skill levels.
Our nation also thought that the assembly component of the manufacturing enterprise could be outsourced to other parts of the globe without impact to the other elements. We know today that is not true. As the world is comprised of more equal competitors - with their own innovative capacity - we see the R&D and innovation component following the assembly. This is a trend we cannot allow to continue. Protecting America's innovative edge is not a Michigan challenge, it's an American one.
They call Detroit Motown for a reason. This city put the world on...