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Sunday, 22 November 2015 22:24

Former Southwest Michigan First CEO Broome says Michigan’s economy needs to adapt

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Broome Broome

Prior to working as an economic developer in California, Arizona and Ohio, Barry Broome was the founding CEO of Southwest Michigan First in Kalamazoo. Broome started the economic development group in 1999 and stayed until 2005, and during his tenure, helped launch the Southwest Michigan Innovation Center. Broome was back in Michigan in November as a keynote speaker at Business Leaders for Michigan’s CEO Summit in Detroit. Broome spoke with MiBiz following his talk, in which he discussed the challenges Michigan faces in changing the culture around innovative economic sectors.


You say that ‘culture and mindset’ hold Michigan back from its fullest economic potential. What do you mean by that?

When I came into Kalamazoo in 1999, they were so wedded to their past that they couldn’t cope with their challenges and think about the future. I think the confidence level that Michigan can become more than it is is really what I mean. You don’t just want to live and die with the inhale and exhale of the automotive industry. When I was in Kalamazoo, there was a group called Digital Detroit. Candidly, I didn’t even understand what digital was. But if you look at what they were trying to do, they were completely correct. They were ahead of their time.


How so?

They probably weren’t successful, but they wanted to build a digital economy in Detroit and Ann Arbor. Of course, if you look at the kind of talent that comes out of the University of Michigan and the talent in Ann Arbor, they actually could have built a great digital economy, but it wasn’t bricks, it wasn’t mortar — or steel. It didn’t include a machine. We didn’t understand it. Now you have places like San Jose and San Francisco that once made chips, once made engines, once was a biotech center, that is now a digital center.


What can Michigan learn from these places?

These economies that are thriving in the United States churn through industries and they stay current on industries. They move their communities, their people, their talent and their policies forward to keep pace with changes in industry. They don’t settle in on an old industry and hammer it out and hope for the best. I think Michigan, like most Midwest communities, is stuck in that gear.


It’s difficult to change this type of mindset over night. What should the state be doing?

You actually can change it overnight. See what I mean? Your follow-up question is the problem. Of course you can change it overnight. You could change it in one legislative session.


So what should Michigan’s institutions do today to change for tomorrow?

First off, there needs to be a major evaluation. Basically, the economy is produced by ideas. Ideas are developed by the product engineers. Michigan has had a great history of great engineers. Moving Michigan engineering into software, bioengineering, digital, coders — moving the engineering capabilities into the future and not making (auto) engineers because you were good at it ... is an example of a chance to move forward instead of looking back.


In the last 10 years, the Southwest Michigan area has grown considerably in the area of health sciences and biotechnology. What has that meant for the region?

That was a move-forward strategy. The Southwest Michigan Innovation Center (SMIC) was designed as a response to Upjohn’s R&D leaving Kalamazoo. We spent three years and I raised about $45 million in cash to develop and build SMIC on the basis that we needed a response to Pharmacia pulling R&D out of downtown Kalamazoo. During that entire time, I was told I was crazy. I was told it would never happen. There is a life science corridor in Southwest Michigan because we broke from tradition and we looked forward and we made a bold move. That’s the culture that I’m talking about that changes economies.


So what is Michigan currently doing right?

Michigan is a gritty state that fights. It never gives up, it sticks to itself. I love that about Michigan. It’s a state of great people. One thing it’s really doing right is working on its overall business environment, and cleaning up and giving people a consistent experience from the business standpoint on taxes and regulations. I think it also needs to give people a consistent experience on talent. That requires utilizing higher education assets and these community colleges to be linked and pay attention to career technical education training. And then the other piece I really love is the standards in schools and where it’s going with K-12.

Interview conducted and condensed by Nick Manes. Courtesy photo

Read 2101 times Last modified on Monday, 23 November 2015 08:54

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