Sunday, June 10, 2007

ONE D / Preparation for Wednesday's Meeting

Detroit Free Press

Piece together cooperation

One D plan for region needs to show value of teamwork

There's a suburban county commissioner hereabouts who cracks that every time he hears "regionalism" he reaches for his wallet. That's not a joke -- it's a perception, one of many that the leaders of "One D: Transforming Regional Detroit" will have to counter if their concept is really going to become a movement.

That particular perception assumes regionalism means taking from the suburbs and giving to the city. But there's another one that says regionalism means the city surrendering some of its control to the suburbs. Both are deeply rooted in thinking that anything regional must have winners and losers, that the whole of southeast Michigan cannot be more important than any of its parts.

Suburban political leaders pay lip service to the importance of Detroit but don't believe their constituents see much value in the city, and they act accordingly. The city's political leadership, meantime, seems to see regionalism as a threat to Detroit's power over its own affairs.

At the Detroit Regional Chamber's recent policy conference on Mackinac Island, there was overwhelming enthusiasm among attendees for regional problem solving but a tepid response from political leaders. These entrenched attitudes do not reflect the thinking among ordinary southeast Michigan folks who just want good jobs and a great place to live. They are why One D has to work around the political establishment but also speak to it with one voice on behalf of the public.

The very existence of One D -- representing thousands of large and small businesses, service organizations, civic and cultural institutions and progressive community leaders -- shows there is a majority constituency for throwing out old attitudes and finding a new, more united path to the future.

The One D priorities -- economic prosperity, educational preparedness, quality of life, race relations and regional transit -- have no boundaries other than old-line "what's in it for me?" thinking.

Given where that has brought this region, isn't it time to ask "what's in it for us?"

Soon enough will come the old arguments about who's paying for what and who's controlling what. But sharing resources or power becomes less of an issue when a region shares goals and aspirations, and focuses on projects that make a difference. Think mass transit, aerotropolis, Cobo Hall expansion. Every thriving region in the country has been able to pull together, despite differences that are as pronounced as any around here.

The One D folks have put forth a set of goals that nobody in this region can sensibly argue about.

They don't cover everything, but they do cover a lot, and they are all interrelated. Each would play a role in remaking this region for the future. One D needs to demonstrate that with a short-term win-win project in order to set the stage for larger, regional things to come.

The political leaders who recoil at the word "regionalism" need to look around. To describe the situation of people locally as "uneven" is a major understatement. And the reality is that what's wrong with this area is doing more to drag it down than what's right about it can do to lift it up. If that ratio is not reversed, and soon, it's a lose-lose for everybody.

Copyright © 2007 Detroit Free Press Inc.

Detroit Free Press

For business growth, state must restructure

Michigan is at a critical crossroads. We must choose between a path leading to economic recovery through bold leadership, or a path of status quo that is certain to worsen the state's economic condition. Michigan has the highest unemployment rate in the union and is struggling with a structural budget deficit that was decades in the making. The forces of globalization have hit the largest sector of the state's economy, the American automotive industry and its suppliers, head on. If ever there was a time for leadership to emerge to choose the path of economic transformation, it is now.

We believe the private sector has the capacity and the responsibility to lead Michigan's economic transformation and already is doing so in a number of ways. We have been at the table for the past three years working to craft a viable solution for replacing Michigan's Single Business Tax. Our goal is to reform state spending by bringing it in line with surrounding states and to generate revenue through a sound business tax that creates regulatory and tax certainty for job providers.

The Detroit region is at the epicenter of what is happening to the state. Whatever happens here has a profound ripple effect throughout the Michigan economy. That is why the economic transformation of southeast Michigan is vital to the state's overall economic recovery. But our region's economic transformation requires two actions.

The first is regional collaboration. To this end, the business community launched the One D effort to align the resources of the region's major community and business organizations around five common objectives. The Detroit Regional Chamber and Detroit Renaissance have demonstrated their commitment to the spirit of One D by fully integrating their efforts to retain and attract businesses for southeast Michigan. The private sector must be the catalyst for implementing regionalism. We believe One D is the vehicle to reach this goal.

The second action required is to promote economic development. Economic growth requires a healthy business climate, including a stable fiscal environment. But currently, Lansing is primarily focused on just filling the budget holes for this fiscal year and the next by raising revenue and making marginal cuts. If we fail to adopt significant structural reforms now, we will only prolong the state's budget problems and be grappling with the same issues year after year. The state needs to lower its cost structure, just as the private sector has done. Only when the state has created a stable, sustainable financial structure will economic development be able to occur.

Diversifying the economy and growing the tax base through development are essential to turning around our region and state. But we can't grow our economy if our state continues to operate on an unsustainable business model. The first steps, balancing the 2007 budget and enacting a replacement for the Single Business Tax, are nearing completion. The harder but more necessary work of restructuring government requires more urgency.

The private sector has gotten behind regionalism and economic development. We ask our political leaders to help us by embracing the need for structural changes to help us achieve the economic transformation of Michigan. The private sector's efforts

to create new jobs will be in vain, unless Lansing aligns its public policy with our economic development strategies.

RICHARD E. BLOUSE JR. is president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber. DOUG ROTHWELL is president of Detroit Renaissance. Write to them in care of the Free Press Editorial Page, 600 W. Fort St., Detroit 48226 or

Copyright © 2007 Detroit Free Press Inc.

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