The inaugural West Michigan Global Initiative gala included a range of speakers including Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, former Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle group, a sponsor of the event.
Snyder’s comments focused on how the economy of Michigan in the past was a center of innovation and manufacturing and how a business and political partnership with the Netherlands can strengthen both economies.
“We were the innovation capital of the world, the manufacturing capital of the world. The world changed, but we didn’t,” said Snyder. “If we don’t fight the future but embrace it, we can get back there again.”
Snyder cited globalization trends and the increasing pace of change as factors that manufacturers in Michigan and America ignored in the past, which brought about tough times for the manufacturing sector. According to Snyder, in the new world economy, there will be a limited number of areas specifically focused on innovation.
“The partnership opportunity we have tonight is to say, ‘In Europe, why shouldn’t it (the innovation center) be the Netherlands?’ ‘In North America, why not Michigan?” Snyder said.
Balkenende similarly saw the mistakes of the past as obstacles to work through, not fight about.
“Looking back, Europe has made two big mistakes,” Balkenende said. “When you have a common currency, you must follow the rules set down, and we have not been an economy of competitiveness. … Europe is learning its lesson.”
Stability and economic partnerships were two factors that Balkenende saw as crucial to Europe’s and America’s success. He also focused on the importance of fostering an entrepreneurial spirit in Europe.
Rubenstein’s comments focused on the current political climate and the problems he saw in the partisanship of government.
“We know what our problems are, but we don’t seem to know what to do about it,” said Rubenstein. “We need to recognize that we’re living in the past and begin to live in the future. … We need to have what you are doing now. We need to have partnerships begin in the private sector and the public sector.”
Snyder summed up the theme of the night as one of connectivity.
“We are kindred spirits,” Snyder said.
The Dutch ministry of foreign affairs pledged to host a concurrent event in Amsterdam for an American contingency next year.