Lizabeth "Beth" Ardisana is CEO of Dearborn-based ASG Renaissance — a marketing, branding, consulting and human resources company. She is also chairperson of the Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (MHCC) and is the first woman to lead the 30-member chamber. She makes the case that S.E. Michigan must not only adapt for the future, but also play to its strengths right now.
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Post No. 5Some specific ideas for transformation
Through a series of conversations here and throughout the community we have been talking about transformation. For me, the discussion need to focus on immediate, near term actions – ones that will help businesses survive and hopefully grow to create more jobs soon. That is not to say that I don’t think supporting research, developing better public policy, improving the tax structure are important – they are and people are working on them. We know we need to diversify our local economy, we need to create new businesses opportunities – and small to mid-size businesses can lead the way.
What can we do?
o Get a better attitude – We have tremendous assets, including technical and creative skills, that we need to more effectively promote. A start to doing that is to understand and be a cheerleader for what we have.
o Focus on the most important things – Ask business owners what they need to change and grow – pick the most important ones and work on them.
o Provide the specific assistance businesses need – Use available funding, like Jobs for the 21st Century to fund universities or other organizations who can be the guides to overcome the barriers to change.
o Keep celebrating the victories – We do have transformation happening every day and we need to keep promoting the successes.
Cities like Pittsburg and Boston have been through these transformations, Detroit can be even more successful.
Post No. 4
Diversity – A regional advantage
We in southeast Michigan have many advantages that should make us a great location for any business. We have great universities and a high concentration of skilled engineers, scientists and designers. We are an efficient transportation hub. We have great recreational opportunities – lakes, trails, beaches.
We have another asset that I don’t think we promote effectively – our diversity. We need to celebrate and promote our diversity – African-American, Hispanic, Indian, Middle Eastern, Asian to just start the list.
We have all read the book and know that it is a flat world. We have communities in Detroit that represent many parts of that world. Global businesses that want to bring opportunities to the United States should be made to feel comfortable to come to this diverse city.
The Detroit Regional Chamber, through its diversity partners, helps present our case, but we all need to see the over whelming advantages of diversity. Diversity brings the ability to understand and reflect the cultures of the rest of the world, allows us to better understand the needs of global customers, helps us speak their language.
There is another very specific way diversity can help us. Minority populations are growing in the United States – particularly the African-American and Hispanic communities. Businesses throughout the country are trying to increase their use of minority suppliers either to meet government contracting requirements or to be more appealing to this growing consumer base.
Because of the long term support of the domestic auto industry, we in this region have the largest and most capable minority supplier in the country. The minority suppliers located here can attract new business opportunities to this state. Let’s develop and promote those suppliers as a way to bring more business to this region.
Post No. 3Take a chance – with some help
We are all about transformation in southeast Michigan; at least that’s what we like to talk about. We talk about transformation with a view of what it looks like in some distant future. We will be an interesting, creative place without factories – all of us will be knowledge workers at our wireless laptops.
This actually sounds pretty good to me, but not a very near term reality.
What is transformation? I think it is today’s business owners and entrepreneurs taking chances – jumping into new businesses and opportunities and making them into successes for the region. The catch to this is we all hate change and the risk that it brings.
We have all seen many examples of businesses, especially small to mid-size businesses, which did not change – where the certainty of extinction (bankruptcy) was better than the uncertainty of change.
While only the business owners themselves can commit to take a chance, the thought leaders of the region can be the guides through the minefield of change. This is where universities, governments and civic organizations can and should help minimize the risk. By providing research, guidance and incentives to small and mid-size business they can help show the path through the minefield.
One organization that is undertaking efforts to be the guide is University of Michigan – Dearborn – I applaud their efforts. UM-D is developing a process to help smaller companies understand and evaluate the business case for change – helping companies understand the best opportunities for success. We should challenge our governments and universities to provide the specific assistance business need to lower the barriers to moving into new industries. With help, small to mid-size businesses can lead the change we need.
Post No. 2
A History Lesson: The Arsenal of Democracy
As Michigan looks to adapt its greatest strengths to new industries and products we can look at our own history for some ideas.
As I listened to a conversation recently about the history of Michigan, I was impressed with the number of times we have adapted our strengths to meet new demands. Of course the auto entrepenuers who took buggy works and machine shops and made the massive assembly plants of today are the most common examples. But maybe we have more to learn from World War II, when Detroit became the “Arsenal of Democracy.”
Within the space of months, local industries built and shipped planes and tanks with the kind of transformation many would call impossible today. How did Detroit do it? It seems that history lesson includes a few key points that could be useful today:
Cooperation – Roosevelt called the effort a “splendid cooperation between government, industry and Labor”. (That sounds useful)
Focus – Everyone focused on a few very clear objectives. (We are starting to think this way – at least One D is trying)
Urgency – They took immediate action. They didn’t build the very best tank, but within months, Detroit build more tanks than Germany – and more won. (We don’t have to promote only the most sophisticated technologies)
Everyone was invited to participate (A Diverse Workforce?) – Because men were away at war, we learned new workers could be trained – even women. (New contributions can come from unexpected places)
This region has a fascinating and inspiring history. We might look to it for some interesting lessons.
Post No. 1
Heads to Hips
The theme of much of what we talk about in Detroit, in Southeast Michigan and in the whole of Michigan is transformation. We want to transform our image, our industries and our economy. We are looking for the next new thing to invent or to innovate that will transform us.
For the long term it's absolutely necessary and much is focused on doing just that – from state funding (the Jobs for the 21st Century Fund for example) to university research. We need to educate a new generation of “knowledge workers” and our school systems need to change to be able to do that.
These are tough tasks and they deserve our full effort but they will probably result in jobs and a transformed workforce in the 22nd century.
If we want jobs for the 21st century, however, we need to look at our strengths and adapt them to today’s opportunities. Which means that instead of abandoning our manufacturing focus we will need to adapt those jobs to processes and products where we can be competitive today.
If we are making heads today – could we make hips?
A supplier who is machining an automotive head today is making a sophisticated component to very exacting specifications, meeting demanding quality requirements, delivering just in time... at very low profit margins. Machining a hip requires the same sophistication and quality – but has the potential for higher profit margins. Shouldn't we be flexible and savvy enough to put our talents and resources into efforts that will yield the greatest rewards?
In evolving Michigan's economy, we should celebrate our strengths –-engineering, creative design, high quality and efficient manufacturing-- and adapt them for new products and industries.
Tomorrow: A brief history lesson.
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