WMU News

TIER Summit brings region's leaders to campus

Sept. 4, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- Pointing to place and creativity as the new building blocks for economic prosperity, speakers from around the nation urged Southwest Michigan leaders Aug. 28 to capitalize on their region's strengths.

"Place, community and geography in this creative age have become the fundamental organizing units and the fundamental economic building blocks," Richard A. Florida told more than 200 business, political and education leaders attending a day-long economic summit at the Fetzer Center. Florida is the Heinz Professor of Economic Development at Carnegie Mellon University and author of "The Rise of the Creative Class."

The gathering was triggered by WMU President Elson S. Floyd's call for creation of a technology, innovation, education and research-TIER-corridor that would encompass nine Michigan counties and focus on collaborative efforts to use the region's four strengths for economic development.

"The viability of this region is absolutely essential to the success of Western Michigan University," Floyd told the crowd in his welcoming address. "We thrive when we collaborate with the communities we serve. We are a university that is keenly committed to collaboration and partnerships."

Florida, who has analyzed the economic prospects of 268 metropolitan areas, was the event's keynote speaker. He pegged the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek area's prospects as good, giving the region "superb" marks for technology and innovation, but rating it much lower for its attraction of talent and tolerance of diversity.

Overall, he said the area ranks 87th out of the 268 areas he's surveyed, ahead of the Grand Rapids, Mich., area and on a par with such communities as Providence, R.I.; Ft. Collins, Colo.; Provo, Utah; Spokane, Wash.; and Ashville, N.C.

Florida called the talent and tolerance problems critical for growth and said "place" has become a cornerstone of personal identity and status, and people move to a region not for a job, but because the region provides the environment they need. Attracting businesses, he said, follows easily if a region has built a "thick labor market," with a preponderance of members of "the creative class," a population segment he called "the most powerful class of all time."

Florida quoted Hewlett-Packard President and CEO Carly Fiorina who once spoke to the nation's governors about enticements offered to locate businesses in a given region.

"Keep your tax incentives, keep your financial packages, keep all the infrastructure and highway interchanges you want to build for us. We don't need it," Florida quoted her as saying. "When we make a decision about where to put a Hewlett-Packard research and development facilitywe only keep one thing in mind. We go where the highly skilled and creative people are."

The lesson is clear, Florida advised the audience. A significant part of economic development efforts must be focused on attracting talent.

"In this new creative age, the location decisions of people are as important, if not more important than the location decisions of companies," he noted.

Bob Marcusse, president and CEO of the Kansas City Area Development Council, weighed in during the summit on "Best Practices in Regional Collaboration," focusing on the lessons learned by an organization that serves a metropolitan area spanning two states.

Congressman Fred Upton addressed the crowd in a luncheon speech on "A View from Washington."

Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm, who is running for governor, closed the day by sharing her economic development goals for Michigan. She said she believes the state's future is in creation of a "Technology Tri-Corridor" that would focus on continuing development of the Life Science Corridor, building on technology growing out of the state's automotive legacy and seizing opportunities in the area of homeland security.

"There are so many areas that we can move into as a state, where we can seize the initiative," she said.

To further the effort of creating a TIER corridor, a Web site has been created to serve as an inventory of resources and a means for members to share information. Matthew Mace, president of Granite Solutions Inc. of Kalamazoo, unveiled the site during the conference and urged summit participants to use it as a means of signaling their commitment, offering feedback and obtaining critical information. The site can be accessed at <www.tier.wmich.edu>.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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