Fundamental Structural Changes Needed -- No More Band-Aids
Yes, Detroit must make huge reductions in expense, operate more efficiently, work cooperatively with its neighboring communities, sell off assets and borrow additional amounts wisely, but all of these actions are mainly for the short run and are likely to be inadequate. They will be necessary, however, to buy the additional time needed for new plans to be designed and implemented that will enable fundamental structural change. Detroit's problems are too deep to be resolved by using just the standard turnaround techniques. Detroit needs a huge amount of new investment and at least tens (more likely, hundreds) of thousands of new people and businesses who can pay taxes. They will not be attracted to the city by the wind down of services due to necessary cost cuts in public safety, roads, schools and other fundamental departmental areas. They must have something that is clear, tangible and positive to look forward to; they will be attracted by a long-term plan for success.
Detroit Must Take Advantage of Being the Poster Child and Utilize All of its Resources
In order to obtain the huge amount of resources necessary for a credible plan to implement fundamental structural changes, Detroit must take full advantage of being the national poster child for major cities that need revitalization and new jobs. National news organizations like the Washington Post, Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times already are following Detroit's story very carefully. People in Illinois, California, New York and many other states have a spotlight on Detroit because Detroit was hit first and more severely. Leaders of many other big cities know that their problems are very similar to Detroit's and that they are not far behind in the need to fix their own problems. The rest of the U.S. is looking to Detroit for ideas and examples of how to overcome its tremendous financial problems because they know they will eventually need to do the same thing.
Detroit must take advantage of being in the limelight right now to align all of its stakeholders to be positive forces in the process of change. Detroit needs to fully utilize their ideas, their relationships, their control over tremendous resources, their political clout, and their knowledge of the needs of Detroit, the region, the state and the nation. There is no time left, however, for infighting, negativity, or road-blocking. Somebody needs to stand up, become the captain of the ship and enforce the new rules of the game. In the last few weeks and months many prominent leaders have started to share the stage with Detroit but, somehow, Detroit must begin to speak with one voice if we are to avoid chaos or delay. Developing this coordinated effort is likely to be the biggest and most important hurdle Detroit must overcome. Some of the people who must help in this process are:
• Mayor Dave Bing and the Detroit City Council
• Governor Rick Snyder and State Treasurer Andy Dillon
• County Executives Brooks Patterson, Robert Ficano and Mark Hackel
• Members of the Michigan legislature
• Members of the U.S. Congress including Carl Levin, Debbie Stabenow, John Conyers, Gary Peters, Hansen Clarke, John Dingell, Sander Levin and many others
• Business leaders including Mike Ilitch, Roger Penske and Dan Gilbert, and many others
• Religious leaders
• CEO's of major foundations such as Ford, Skillman, Kresge, GM, McGregor, Comerica, and DTE
• Heads of the many organizations already working to bring young people back to Detroit
• Major Detroit vendors and creditors
• Union leaders
• Chambers of commerce and trade associations
• Small business owners
• Citizens of the entire region
Billions of Dollars Will Be Needed Over 10-20 Years for True Structural Changes
While short-term cost cuts are being implemented, this is the time for Detroit to think far beyond the very limited resources of just the city or even the state. Detroit needs to develop a plan for structural change that is likely to easily cost billions of dollars over at least a 10-20 year period.
To put this in perspective, it already has cost hundreds of millions of dollars just to keep the ship barely afloat. Because of the amount of the resources required, we must recognize that it is likely that one of the major contributors to this process will have to be the federal government, working in concert with private enterprise. We must organize to achieve that goal and there is no better time than now to do so. We must develop a sound plan and ask for the adequate amount of resources that will be necessary (both in terms of highly capable people and dollars).
The hundreds of millions of dollars spent by our past leaders (without a vision for the future) has just covered up the continuing deterioration of the city. This is the time to design and implement true structural changes rather than just request more elaborate band-aids. If a sound plan is developed soon that will demonstrate a high return on investment, the dollars will be available and people will be attracted to come back to Detroit in droves.