Commentary

Joint efforts can rebuild our region

 

Op-Ed for Crain's Detroit Business, April 16, 2007

When a natural disaster hits, a community knows it can expect a rapid response from agencies ready to help restore and rebuild.

In our state, we need the same expectation - and response - when an economic crisis strikes.

January's news that Pfizer Inc. is leaving Ann Arbor and taking with it some 2,100 jobs was a blow few of us in the community expected. And yet I am optimistic about our future because of the quick action under way by so many organizations throughout Washtenaw County and the state.

Consider:

  • Within hours of the Pfizer announcement, leaders from throughout our community and state, including Gov. Jennifer Granholm, gathered in Ann Arbor to say: We will work together to overcome this loss. We have since formed several Strategic Working Action Teams focused on issues such as redeveloping the Pfizer site, creating new jobs for displaced employees, and identifying new funding for area nonprofits at risk because of a drop in charitable giving by Pfizer.
  • UM is committing $3 million over three years to recruit and hire Pfizer scientists who can enrich our research faculty in biomedical, pharmaceutical and other fields. Also, Eastern Michigan University and UM are reaching out to Pfizer employees who want to begin new careers as elementary and secondary school teachers.
  • Ann Arbor Spark, the community's economic-development agency, has directly connected with 30 percent of Pfizer employees about career services. At the same time, some 115 companies have approached Ann Arbor Spark with job opportunities for displaced Pfizer employees. It is worth noting that Ann Arbor Spark was founded by a host of institutions, led by the University of Michigan and including Washtenaw County government, EMU, the Bank of Ann Arbor, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and others.
  • At least 65 developers and entrepreneurs have come forward with ideas for how best to use the 177 acres and 2 million square feet of building space owned by Pfizer.

This is the blueprint for our future: nimble and creative approaches to sustaining and expanding our regional and state economies.

Collaboration is critical to our future; it is absolutely essential that government, industry, nonprofits, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists all be players. Collaboration also is essential to a strong, rapid response, which is how communities must act to survive and thrive in the 21st century.

This is one reason why UM, Wayne State University and Michigan State University have come together to form the University Research Corridor. The URC will play a key role in helping transform our state into a technology and innovation leader, using the intellectual capital of our institutions.

I see similar partnerships unfolding in Detroit, with Wayne State and TechTown, and in East Lansing, with MSU and Prima Civitas, and they are exciting models for diversifying our economy. While no community is immune to change - and Ann Arbor has been particularly fortunate when it comes to economic upheaval - it is essential to be prepared for market transitions.

What the Washtenaw community looks like in five years depends on how bold we are with our imagination and our innovation.

We have a tremendous amount of work before us in Washtenaw County, and we must manage expectations that there is a quick fix to such a significant loss of jobs and the subsequent impact on the housing market, area schools, and local charities. The key is collaboration. It is in watershed moments like this one that leadership becomes even more important. We have that leadership with Ann Arbor Spark, with the city of Ann Arbor, with the University of Michigan, and many, many others in our community.

No one entity can repair a loss like Pfizer. Galvanizing our collective efforts ensures that every good idea gets on the table.