The Detroit I Know

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Detroit is ground zero for what lies ahead for America. A place that faced the fury of global competition before other cities, Detroit has down-sized, right-sized and re-engineered for longer than any place on Earth. One of every two private sector jobs lost in the US the past ten years was lost in Michigan, many of them in manufacturing.

But now the rest of America is experiencing the same economic shock. Banking centers aren’t anymore. Big pharma has gone bust. Technology jobs have gotten out-sourced.  

Think technology and services can lead America to ever growing incomes? Detroit tells us a different story. Lose your manufacturing base and you lose the fuel source that drives much of the technology and service sector investment — a reason that every developed nation and most developing ones embrace a vibrant manufacturing sector.

Think a college degree alone can get you a cushy job for life? Think again. America has a glut of degrees, but a dearth of skills, especially the type that can fix and maintain people and things — the type of skills Detroit was known for.

Think we can provide unlimited social benefits without paying the cost — look here. The crushing burden of rich medical, pension and social benefits helped contribute to GM and Chrysler’s bankruptcies. Sound familiar?

You can draw many lessons for America from Detroit. But perhaps none so poignant than what the future may hold. If Detroit provides any insight on how to prepare America for what comes next, it is to draw upon its own human, emotional and natural strengths.

Rather than pointing the finger of blame at others for our ills or waning for the good old days, new leaders among us have emerged. People like Roger Penske, one of Forbes 100’s most successful CEO’s, he spends countless of his own dollars cleaning up and rebuilding the city. Like basketball great Dave Bing, who gave up his business to help restore integrity as mayor. Or Tony Earley, Pete Karmanos, Cindy Pasky, Matt Cullen or Jim Nicholson, who have rebuilt, relocated or renovated their corporate headquarters to be part of this city’s downtown. They have the common view of knowing that no one’s going to rescue us in a global economy and the inner-faith that we can overcome what befalls us.

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