In the year 2000 Michigan businesses were fast approaching a standstill as the long-predicted labor shortage reached these shores. Gov. John Engler ordered a recruitment program that called on the alumni of University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Grand Valley State University and all others to “return to Michigan.” The dearth of engineers, researchers and scientists was the impetus for changing immigration rules, allowing more foreign workers to fill these crucial gaps. The push came with state and federal education initiatives to bolster primary and secondary education, some of the most successful now well-documented in the greater Grand Rapids area.
But the reasons for such all-out calls to work are not all related to educational choices, as much as to the shrinking population making up the workforce, compared to its baby boomer-sized predecessor. Next up (and in) is the “X Gen,” according to trend analysts, the first generation of “latch key kids,” who for better or worse often made their own decisions and ferreted their own answers to problems of the moment. And they are so trained as they become managers and owners.
By the mid-’80s business gurus like Gary Hamel and Alvin Toffler predicted that this generation was as likely to live in a foreign country (the result of mega-mergers) as across this country. And they predicted this group of workers would blow up corporate America (“including IBM”) as it was known, and create a new model. It is a generation said to have few loyalties.
The Leadership programs, therefore, offer the connection, or pact, between a community and its needs, and those who are or will be running the businesses and do not yet have the experience or understanding of community. In West Michigan such impact is enormous when considering the number of nonprofits benefiting from the ranks of business leaders. Harvey Gainey provided the most recent example in his work to save the Broadway Theatre Guild.
Locally owned equals local participation. It is the reason so many Michigan leaders were anxious about the early retirement of Alticor President Dick DeVos, and his replacement. A tremendous sign of relief was literally quotable last week when the board of the international company appointed Doug DeVos to succeed his eldest brother. The vastly influential company remains family-run, and community-oriented. More than that, Doug DeVos brings a wealth of understanding and experience about the world in which we now live, and which now greatly impacts the metro area in all its diversity.
Much could be lost in these times. Leadership programs are essential for continued economic success, so that communities will continue to prosper.