Is our welcome sign up for diverse talent?


Photo via (renaissancechambara)

Michigan is going through a significant economic transition. The continued reduction of Michigan’s manufacturing base has led to higher focus on being a knowledge-based economy. Governor Rick Snyder has referred to this transition as “Reinventing Michigan.” In a knowledge-based economy, preparation, retention and attraction of talent is the top priority.

“Quite simply, in a knowledge driven and entrepreneurial economy, the place with the greatest talent wins.” -A New Agenda for Michigan, June 2006

It is this competition for talent that is the focus of the study done by Michigan Future, Inc. This study became the blueprint for the strategy being discussed by business leaders in Michigan.

What is interesting and somewhat surprising — especially given the discussion and events in Michigan and around the country the last few days — is the number-one strategy proposed to address Michigan’s transition. It isn’t about right to work or collective bargaining. It isn’t about taxes and tax rates. The number-one strategy proposed to address the transition to a knowledge-based economy is, “Build a culture aligned with the flat world.” 

This study believes that such a culture is one that highly values: 

  • Learning and education
  • An entrepreneurial spirit
  • Being welcoming to all

I want to focus on that last point. What does being “welcoming to all” mean for us in Grand Rapids and West Michigan? Do we condemn discrimination or tolerate it?  How do we welcome and help integrate talented people from outside Michigan — and outside the country — into our community? How do we view and interact with those who are immigrants working beside us and living in our neighborhoods? Are we willing to advocate for more visas to encourage international students to stay in Michigan after graduation? Will we support them in filling vacant jobs or starting new businesses? How do we view those from our West Michigan LGBT community?

These are questions that we must address if we believe that changing our economy requires changing our culture.

Studies have shown that the people with the talents we need to transition Michigan’s economy are diverse and highly value diversity in their communities. These talented people will not re-locate to or stay in communities that do not provide them with the diversity they are seeking.

Grand Rapids, how are we doing?

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