Blog: Michele Hodges

Due to a successful compromise, the Troy Transit Center, plans for which were initially derailed, is back on track for completion in the fall of 2013. Michele Hodges, president of the Troy Chamber of Commerce, discusses why communities should have a AAA mindset and how the transit center was resurrected.

Matching the Competition Via Transit

Now that we've discussed how controversy itself can actually enhance our communities if deftly managed by skilled leaders, followed by insight into a helpful tool for such leaders to implement, it makes sense to chat about the importance of a competitive spirit.

The Detroit region has great "bones", so to speak, and is well equipped to compete in the global marketplace with its rich history, strategic location, and a bevy of other highly desirable assets.  Troy is also positioned competitively, within that biosphere.  As we each work to advance the positioning of our respective communities, we are called upon to leverage the myriad economic development tools available to us.

Are these tools perfect?  Not always.  A good example for making this point transpired in Troy recently, and it hearkens back to the Troy Transit Center we've already discussed.  I refer specifically to the concern that accepting federal dollars to advance the center would contribute to the national debt.

Recognizing no rationally minded person would want to contribute to a debt crisis, that same person probably also understands the need for a level playing field.  So, I wonder, do we really understand the crux of the issue?   My sense is we are asking ourselves the wrong questions, omitting the opportunity for a stepped approach, and foregoing meaningful solutions in the process.  I can explain further.

When asked during the Troy Transit Center advocacy process if the Troy Chamber wanted to contribute to the national debt, the answer was "no".  Understandably, some felt the next logical step was to refuse the federal dollars that had already been assigned to the project.  Not wanting to relinquish an important opportunity, the Chamber sought a method for balancing the need for fiscal conservancy with the ability to compete on a level playing field.  Fortunately, we found it. 

The solution was to identify a business model capable of producing a revenue stream that covers the operating expenses of the facility, thereby reducing the impact on the taxpayer.

What was the end result?  It was a stepped approach to achieving fiscal conservancy/reform, while at the same time preserving the ability to utilize an important tool, and maintain a competitive advantage in the process.

To further the "competitive spirit" point, I'm going to use a metaphor that I expect will resonate in Hockey Town.  It came to me while I was helping my eight-year-old daughter suit up in the locker room.  As each teammate entered the room, the coach advised him/her to lean their hockey stick against the wall, just inside the door, to keep the sticks from getting in the way while the team dressed for the game.  Once the team was suited, and had their pep talk, the coach sent them out the door and reminded them to grab their sticks, just as I'm sure the coach for the opposing team was doing.  

Now what if the stick manufacturer was involved in behaviors deemed detrimental, much like our federal government has been irresponsible in managing its finances?  Should the coach be principled in demanding reform?  Absolutely, but, is the only answer to leave the sticks on the wall, knowing the other team will have theirs in hand?  Maybe not, and it is up to dedicated decision makers to figure out how to hold the manufacturer accountable, while preserving the team's ability to compete.

What are the learning points from all of this?  One, decision makers must find common ground and seek the solutions that preserve a competitive advantage.  Issues cannot be viewed through any single "lens" (e.g. Republican, Democrat, Tea Party, Progressive, liberal, conservative, etc.), for it clouds the solution identification process, and impedes the capacity to problem solve.  Leaders must be willing to have the right conversations, and to commit to orchestrating those conversations in a data driven, respectful fashion.   By abiding to such best practices, our communities will be solid competitors.

Managed controversy, a AAA mindset, and a competitive spirit - do we need anything more to ensure a prominent position in the global marketplace?  Yes, but, fortunately, it is completely within our power to make happen, and that is the will to do so.

And, finally, please consider this your invitation to celebrate the Troy Transit Center when it opens in October of 2013.  It is a symbol of not only smart investment in jobs creating infrastructure, but in the art of problem solving.

Important Resource to Highlight
Crucial Conversations has sold over two million copies, and is a New York Times best seller.  I have had the opportunity to work with the Crucial Conversations team, via Vital Skills International, and am now familiar with the need for "crucial conversations" when stakeholders and, in this case, communities, seek to problem solve.