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Published in Economic Development
Incoming MEDC leader cites ‘transferrable challenges’ with move to Michigan COURTESY PHOTOS

Incoming MEDC leader cites ‘transferrable challenges’ with move to Michigan

BY Sunday, May 23, 2021 06:35pm

Michigan Economic Development Corp. announced a transition in leadership last week that will bring economic development expertise from the bayous of Louisiana to the peninsulas of Michigan.

The organization selected incoming CEO Quentin Messer Jr. from a candidate field of more than 100 people spanning 26 states and Puerto Rico. His appointment will be in effect by July 19. 

The MEDC Executive Committee’s selection drew widespread praise and optimism as the state enters its post-pandemic recovery. 

“The candidate pool was pretty deep, not just in terms of numbers but also in expertise,” said Grand Rapids Community College President Bill Pink, who serves on the MEDC’s Executive Committee and was part of the search committee. “It’s a compliment to the state that we have such qualified candidates to this position.”

Messer, 52, is leaving his post as president and CEO of the New Orleans Business Alliance, where he spent nearly six years pursuing economic development in the city. His new role will cover the entirety of Michigan, which also includes an iconic American city known for its resilience. 

“It wouldn’t do justice to Detroiters to say the city is like New Orleans,” and vice versa, Messer said in an interview with MiBiz. “Both are iconic cities, both are cities that matter and are a tremendous barometer that indicate how we as a country are doing. I’ve had the pleasure of serving an iconic American city — now I have the pleasure of serving an iconic American state.”

Messer earned his bachelor’s degree from Princeton University, a master of business administration from Columbia University and a law degree from Columbia’s School of Law. After various nonprofit and consulting positions, Messer served three years at Louisiana Economic Development — the last two as assistant secretary — before leading the New Orleans Business Alliance.

Messer said the “transferrable challenges” between New Orleans and Michigan are multi-faceted.

“The first is making economic development matter to people,” he said. “Yes, you’ve got to win deals and move projects, but if economic development doesn’t help with upward mobility, then it really has lost its meaning.”

He added that New Orleans and Michigan often share a misperception from outsiders, which economic developers must address.

“People thinking of New Orleans don’t necessarily think of business, they think about having a great time. I don’t think people fully understand the richness of Michigan,” he said, specifically noting Portage-based Pfizer Inc.’s role in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

A third challenge Messer faces, as he did while at the Louisiana Economic Development Corp., is balancing the interests of demographically different parts of the state.

“What we’ll build is a championship economy that makes the reality of a changing economy relevant for people so they don’t feel invisible, or that the economy is passing them,” Messer said. “The connection is that ultimately people want opportunities. They want economic development to help them realize their dreams and aspirations.”

Post-pandemic recovery

Messer succeeds former MEDC CEO Mark Burton, who left the post in March to co-lead Detroit-based law firm Honigman LLP’s economic development incentives group. Jeff Noel, corporate vice president at Benton Harbor-based Whirlpool Corp. who served on the search committee, will continue as MEDC’s interim CEO until Messer’s appointment is confirmed.

Pink said leaders across business sectors — not just economic development officials — will be responsible for overseeing the transition to the post-pandemic economy. That includes adapting to workplace changes, supply and demand for goods and labor, and effectively using billions of dollars in federal stimulus funds.

“I think (MEDC’s) top priority is pretty aligned with mine: How do we help our community dig out of this pandemic?” Pink said, referring to getting companies that have been reshaped by COVID-19 back to “running on all cylinders.”

“That needs to be a big focus area for many of us in the state,” Pink said.

Messer described envisioning the role of post-pandemic economic development as the “$65 million question.” But he believes Michigan has some built-in advantages.

“Michigan is incredibly well positioned as more people go to hybrid, remote work situations. Its quality of place and central location will be very attractive to people who can work anywhere in the country,” he said. “At the end of the day, attractive states that have great talent, great physical places and great people with high integrity will always be winners. That’s Michigan.”

Messer also comes to the state as economic development officials, including in West Michigan, place more emphasis on equitable economic development and ensuring that people of color have the same access to capital and opportunities to grow their companies.

Messer said equitable development includes multiple “critical elements,” including the potential for upward mobility regardless of race, ethnicity or gender, and “leveraging all of the assets of all people.”

“The final thing is making sure we celebrate, protect and provide capital to other opportunities to expand those businesses in Michigan,” he said.

Pink said Messer stood out from the dozens of applicants based on his experience, communication skills and preparedness.

“Quentin had done extensive homework on Michigan, its regions and the MEDC itself,” Pink said. “He has a good grasp on who we are and what we’re doing here.”

Messer said his first priorities include building on that by visiting regions of the state like the Upper Peninsula and West Michigan: “I need to listen and move quickly.”

Read 4536 times Last modified on Monday, 24 May 2021 10:21
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