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The Review Blue Arrows

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As we consider the future of Michigan—its economy, its people, its communities—we need to allow people’s passion and pride to rule. We need hope and inspiration, entrepreneurship and ingenuity. A recent visit to the Henry Ford and Greenfield Village reminded me of how great Michigan and its people are. After all, we propelled this nation into the industrial age and brought wealth and prosperity beyond most people’s imaginations! We pretty much invented the middle class. No wonder it is so painful to accept the fundamental change that is upon us.

But it is here, so what are we going to do? At the League, we believe now is the time to invest in places that people care about, to sustain our hometowns so they are positioned to attract and retain talented people. After all, community and its quality of life are at the center of vibrancy and economic success. We must support communities that people are passionate about, want to live in, invest in, return to after college, start a business in, and raise a family in. In the past, Michigan’s economic development strategies have focused on “hunting” large manufacturers and/or big box retailers. Today’s global economy demands a different approach; growing knowledge-based jobs in ones and twos through entrepreneurship.

Center for 21st Century Communities

The League established the Center for 21st Century Communities (21c3) to assist local officials in creating vibrant places for the 21st century. Through the Center, the League will provide a wide range of services, including technical services, educational programming, a resource clearinghouse, speaker and expert bureau, and other related special projects (see text box on next page).

Identified as one of the key critical assets of 21c3, entrepreneurship can provide the economic boost that turns your community into a sustainable, dynamic community. In fact, much of the research on entrepreneurship indentifies “place” and “culture” as critical factors to success. Entrepreneurs want to locate and “start-up” where they feel welcome, supported, and connected to other entrepreneurs. They also need to start their businesses where they will find the resources they need. And today, the most critical resource is human capital, and talented people want to live in vibrant communities.

Michigan’s Entrepreneurial Culture

So do we in Michigan have those types of places? Do we have creative hot spots teeming with entrepreneurial energy? Absolutely!

Who saw the presentation by Houghton and Hancock for the Community Excellence Awards program at our Convention last year? Their Mtech SmartZone focuses on high tech business development which, in five years, has drawn two fortune 100 companies to the area, supported 12 high tech start-ups, grown 160 new jobs, and 500 spin-off jobs as a result. This is in a community of around 12,000 people! Check out their excellent video at It demonstrates how people’s love for and pride in their community converges with key assets like higher education and entrepreneurial culture to create a perfect soup. The results are amazing and I suspect communities and regions all around our state have the ingredients to cook up a pretty good broth of their own.

How about Ann Arbor Spark, Detroit’s Techtown, and East Lansing’s Technology nnovation Center (see article on page 18)? These are just a few examples of communities and regions, large and small, that are finding entrepreneurship a key to success. And has anyone noticed that colleges and universities are focusing more and more on entrepreneurship education and more aggressively translating research into practical business opportunities?

Web Ascender's Office

Without question, times are tough, tougher than many of us have ever seen. But the people of Michigan have the grit and the pride to transform our situation, and our communities have the assets to make that a reality. The Economist published a special report on entrepreneurship in March 2009 that notes:

“America has found the transition to a more entrepreneurial economy easier than its competitors because entrepreneurialism is so deeply rooted in its history. It was founded and then settled by innovators and risk takers who were willing to sacrifice old certainties for new opportunities. American schoolchildren are raised on stories about inventors such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison.”

Our old certainties are long gone and I personally find a lot of hope in the work of Houghton and Hancock and the similar success stories from our members across the state. Their work will help all of us understand the role that local government has to play in promoting an entrepreneurial culture. The League, in partnership with various organizations and experts, will continue to keep our membership at the leading edge.

Global Entrepreneurship

Global Entrepreneurship Week is November 16–22. Its goal is to inspire young people to embrace innovation, imagination and creativity, and to encourage youth to think big, and turn their ideas into reality. Through this program, founded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, millions of young people around the world will join a growing movement to generate new ideas and seek better ways of doing things. Tens of thousands of activities are planned in dozens of countries. Visit for more information.

Heather Van Poucker is manager of Consulting Services for the League. You may reach her at 734-669-6326 or



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