Jay, a reader, always sends me interesting pieces to stimulate a post. Unfortunately, as this isn’t a paying gig, I often don’t get to write about everything I’d like to- but, this letter from a CEO about why he’s giving up on Detroit- should be a wake-up call for Dayton- and Ohio. There is a reason we’re losing a couple of congressional seats- and making babies won’t solve it. We have to be perceived as a desirable place to live and work. Note the word desirable-
from the CEO letter:
We don’t have a perception problem, we have a reality problem. Most young, highly talented knowledge workers from places like Seattle or San Francisco or Chicago find the even the upper end suburbs of Metro Detroit to be unappealing. I think long term residents including many leaders are simply so used to the dreary physical environment of Southeast Michigan that it has come to seem normal, comfortable and maybe even attractive. Which is fine so long as we have no aspiration to attract talent and capital from outside our region.
My fears were confirmed when I began trying to gather local economic development literature to use as a recruiting tool. The deficits which so dog our region are sometimes heralded by this literature as assets.
The post has some nice maps with the migration patterns out of Detroit. What was once the 4th largest city in America and the city that produced what we needed to win WWII- is now suffering a fate that Cleveland and Dayton will soon be facing if we don’t get our priorities in order. I am not total gloom and doom- I’m sure in another 50 years, Dayton will be doing just fine- it’s the next 20 that will hurt.
More than anything, I’m sure of one thing- “Economic development” efforts by the government are a total waste of time and resources- as are arguments about tax burdens. When GE, the nation’s biggest corporation, can pay its executives millions- and still claim to have made no taxable income in 2010– we should get the message that the rich have fully and completely taken over our government- and that taxes are only for little people.
I don’t expect our federal government to make things right either. When the former CEO of Countrywide does no jail time for swindling billions and placing the failures of the little homeowners for the downfall of the entire global economy- while the Feds pursue and jail a guy for faking his income on a loan– we should know full well we’re screwed.
If you get the feeling, with the latest budget cuts and threatened privatization of everything from prisons and roads to economic development offices in Ohio, that it’s an every entity for itself – see who survives community death match- I’m right there with you. There is no time for arguing over the spilled milk of who let NCR leave Dayton- or Iams leave Dayton, or GM leave Dayton. And there is no way we’re going to have cash to lure 1 big employer or 1,000 little ones as Dayton Mayor Gary Leitzell likes to talk about- we only have one option: differentiation through innovation- and it has to be built on truth- not puffery or dreams.
We have to make good news fast- and show that we’re a better place to live than Austin TX, Chicago IL, LA or NYC.
And it shouldn’t be too hard- have you seen the cost of living in those places? Have you tried the commute in LA?
While I don’t give a crap about the Wright brothers- the history of innovation of our community is strong- by individuals- not by our community. It’s time to stop having group think about everything- and make some promises: in Dayton (the entire Montgomery/Greene County region) we’re going to improve quality of life for every citizen by at least 10% in 10 years and 25% in 20. Simple goal.
How will we do it?
Eliminate government overhead and increase spending on quality of life offerings. Instead of having hundreds of people elected to do whatever it is they do- let’s just elect a president and house of representatives to the region. That’s right- one leader- and a group of reps to argue about what we need to fix first. The president is full time- the reps are 1 meeting a week for $250 each.
- One school system, with a Superintendent and a house of representatives that meets once every two weeks. The system must balance all schools in the region with academic, economic and racial metrics.
- One safety force- with one chief for police and fire.
- One set of building and zoning codes- with one chief officer who is elected.
- One parks and recreation system, one street maintenance division, one trash recycling system- etc. You get the point.
- One tax levy for all- one tax rate for all- and most importantly- one metric that counts- quality of life.
The metrics: how smart, fit, happy, healthy, wealthy, safe and optimistic are we? If it’s not getting better- we have an instant election. If we’re making progress- we don’t. Quality of life (QOL) will be the only metric that matters.
When you get right down to it- the idea of having scheduled elections and term limits is stupid- and doesn’t do us any favors. The goal should be to have the best people running the show- and to keep them as long as possible. You wouldn’t change managers every two years in a profitable business- or tell the coach who wins all the games he can’t keep coaching because his term limit is up.
If there is one thing I’ve learned about living in Dayton proper- is that you almost have to work hard to have the community you want. You also have to have a zeal for adventure to find stuff to do that’s fun- not that it’s not all there, but that our perception is that it’s not. Maybe it’s because we’re too busy keeping track of all these little fiefdoms- maybe it’s because we’ve grown in size (sprawl) without making adjustments to our organization to account for the changes?
It’s time to re-evaluate the whole shooting match. It’s time to organize our leadership about what we want for results- not about working with what we have.
Start innovating- start thinking about what kind of community we want and build a radical new system that’s built to support that vision and it’ll happen. Keep doing what we have and, well- look at Detroit.
There should only be one goal of our government- one focus: quality of life. Let’s innovate our way into the forefront of forward thinking communities by adopting a simple focus- and then advertise the hell out of it.
I think we can fill some empty houses that way- a lot better than spending money to tear them down.