By Jeffery L. Carey Jr.
For Flint to thrive, the city needs to become a diverse international community, economic experts told a lively crowd of about 60 at The Ferris Wheel downtown May 7.
In fact, one speaker asserted, creating an ethnically diverse team produces provably better results than just one person, and urged the audience to steer clear of “the siren call of sameness.”
The event, “Going Global,” was co-sponsored by the International Center of Greater Flint(ICGF) along with the UM-Flint University Center for Community and Economic Development The event also was sponsored by The Ferris Wheel, owned by business mogul Phil Hagerman, and 100K Ideas , a non-profit organization centered on vetting entrepreneurial ideas and providing a helping hand in business development.
Speakers included Rodrick Miller, the City of Flint’s new director of economic development who also still is president and CEO of Ascendant Global, an economic development firm. He was joined by Scott E. Page, author of The Diversity Bonus and director of complex systems, political science, and economics at the University of Michigan — Ann Arbor.
Speakers were introduced by Phyllis Sykes and Adil Mohammed, co-founders of the ICGF, and UM – Flint’s Economic Development Administration Program Manager Sara McDonnell.
The standing-room-only crowd included stakeholders, entrepreneurs, and political figures, along with many students from both Kettering University and UM-Flint.
Sykes opened by lamenting the 2007 closing of the International Institute and noting that in that void, the city has been, “lacking a space where the international community could connect with the local Flintstones.” She offered hopes the recent founding of the International Center of Greater Flint would fill that void.
Mohammed built on this by adding that the ICGF was, “trying to be a hub for revitalizing and reenergizing the region,” a region comprised of seven contiguous counties. He introduced the first speaker of the evening, Page, author of the recent book, The Diversity Bonus.
Diversity creates “creative bonus”
Page advocated creating an integrated place for people to thrive, with Flint becoming more welcoming to a diverse international community.
“According to a Kellogg study,” he warned, “if we don’t improve the inequity by 2050 we will lose two trillion dollars in economic improvement.” Attempting to describe why Flint needed to create the right kinds of diverse teams, he stated a “diverse crowd is 21 percent better than just one person.” A substantial bonus is created by placing unlike people together who think differently. “It’s a mathematical fact,” Page proclaimed.
He said increases in creativity can be measured, arguing for the ultimate goal of bringing people who are different together. This, Page described, was embodied in the 100K Ideas agenda of generating lots of possibilities toward a “creative bonus.”
Page referred to the so-called “Group Effect,” highlighting what happens when people who are different from each other are placed together in a room. He said research suggests it causes them to think differently, a means toward stopping what Page referred to as, “the siren call of sameness.”
Globalization a driving economic force
Miller summarized what Flint had to offer and what it would take to create a better economy.
He said people often think everything is an economic problem while actually it is not.
“What really makes an economy grow,” he stated, “is infrastructure, real-estate, security, physical policy, environmental policy, incubation and technology, openness to internationalism, like how much international trade is happening.”
Miller listed three forces he said act on the economy: the current form of globalization, disruptive technology, and people.
Globalization has led to access to education for the rest of the world. “Now everyone is in the game,” he said.
He asserted the “big company model” is obsolete and companies need to be smaller and more “nimble” to tap into global markets.
He warned of placing all your eggs in one basket without preparing for “disruptive technology,” meaning companies here today may very well disappear tomorrow so an entire economy should never be based on a single industry. “They will not thrive,” Miller warned. He suggested “disruptive technology” also affects individuals, who may take everyday household technology for granted until it changes or disappears into a new form.
“Smart people are all over the world”
Finally, he said, economic growth is based on people. “Smart people are all over the world,” Miller said, adding, “By 2050 this country will be a country of color, which is largely through immigration.”
Following their speeches, Page and Miller fielded questions. In the Q&A, Page described Flint as, “a very accessible place,” and suggested people will want to come here if they visit and see people here from all over the world.
Miller highlighted the importance of turning Flint into a “welcoming city,” a new term applied instead of “sanctuary city” — where people would want to go because it would welcome them and offer an array of attractions like great colleges, inexpensive property, and opportunities for investment with low start-up costs. He said that means controlling the narrative about Flint, not letting the national media control it.
“Flint has world class infrastructure,” he said, and urged the audience to continue cleaning up the city. He said that might include rejecting “dirty” industries while increasing linkages to external resources and global markets. The end goal, he said, is to “make the city more attractive tomorrow than it was today.”
The Ferris Wheel–once the home of Ferris Furs– was recently renovated and renamed by Skypoint Ventures LLC, business mogul Phil Hagerman’s venture capital and real estate firm. According to Crain’s Detroit Business, the renovation was partially financed by a $1.5 million grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). 100K Ideas, a project housed in the Ferris Wheel building, is sponsored by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the MEDC, Skypoint Ventures and Huntington Bank.
EVM Staff Writer Jeffery L. Carey Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.