Howes: Business to target 20 Flint projects in 60 days
Flint is poised to get a big assist from a select group of Michigan business leaders, beginning now.
Inspired by the Moving Flint Forward Leadership Summit there in June, the “Flint Sprint” to be announced Thursday is an alliance between the city, nonprofits and corporate partners to improve the lives of residents there — and to do it quickly.
The sprint, already underway, targets 20 projects to be tackled over 60 days. It’s more evidence that government — local, state and federal — cannot by itself muster the means or the expertise to address the aftershocks of arguably the largest public-health crisis in Michigan post-war history.
“This is a continuing effort to connect the business community to the current and future state of Flint,” says Mark Davidoff, Michigan managing partner of Deloitte LLP, a driving force behind the summit and the Flint Sprint. “It’s all about improving the quality of life for the citizens of Flint. We hope this is not going to be one and done.”
It shouldn’t be. Why? Because Flint’s lead-tainted water crisis effectively put all of Michigan “on a world stage,” he continues, “and not in a good way. We have a responsibility to Flint until it’s resolved.”
The sprint projects, altogether valued at roughly $5 million, are the latest manifestation of a new, public-private model of collaboration here. It has been evolving in Michigan since the global financial meltdown strained the ability of government to meet basic functions, especially in such cash-strapped cities as Detroit and Flint.
In Detroit’s historic Chapter 9 bankruptcy, business and philanthropy collaborated with state government and the city’s emergency manager to craft the “grand bargain.” The resulting cash hoard of more than $800 million shielded the Detroit Institute of Arts’ collection from liquidation and bolstered the pensions of city retirees.
In the worst throes of the Flint fiasco, such corporate giants as General Motors Co., private foundations and individual donors committed millions to help the city, its residents, especially its children, during their continuing travail of bottled water and tainted pipes. It’s still not over.
Mayor Karen Weaver, elected less than a year ago amid the crisis, continues to build her own team. Philanthropic dollars, totaling at least $125 million, are flowing slower than big headlines suggest. Corporate support from GM and Flint native Tom Gores, owner of the Detroit Pistons, is not sufficient to meet the city’s outsized needs.
With the Flint Sprint, the aim is to target corporate expertise, free of charge, at problems whose solutions can impact the everyday lives of residents by helping the city and select nonprofits help them.
Of the first 15 projects, expected to be completed by Nov. 30, six are intended to help the city repair or upgrade basic processes allowed to deteriorate during Flint’s financial decline and its state-appointed emergency management. ChoiceTel will analyze city hall phones; Baker College of Flint will review personnel rules last updated in 1979; AT&T will assess needs for installing a WiFi system.
The Downtown Detroit Partnership will conduct an analysis to determine needs and possible funding for a high-definition camera system for the Flint Police Department. Consumers Energy will audit two community centers, and it will perform a financial analysis of the city’s public lighting system, as well as identify possible funding sources.
The projects are the result of intensive discussions between the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce, the Weaver administration and civic, nonprofit and community groups. The goal: to identify needs in public safety and infrastructure, health and wellness, education and transportation, where business expertise and resources could be applied quickly.
Wayne-based Rush Trucking Corp. agreed to help Hamilton Community Health Network translate outreach and marketing materials into Spanish. And it will assist the YWCA of Greater Flint to develop a plan to help area women utilize its resources.
This is an opportunity for Flint and its leadership in City Hall. Not because business will provide services free of charge, but because municipal operations mired in the last generation (or worse) can be revised and restructured to improve efficiency and stretch scarce resources.
Government doesn’t have a good track record of adequately reforming itself, or moving quickly enough to adopt new technology to speed revenue collection, customer service, or both. (Think of, say, Detroit’s antiquated way of collecting city income taxes until the state Treasury assumed responsibility for electronically processing its returns.)
“Yes, it’s a new model,” says Sandy Baruah, CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber. “From a state branding perspective, we all have to understand that the recovery of Flint is important to Michigan’s reputation. It’s important that we fix the problems in Flint.”
It’s also the right thing to do.
Daniel Howes’ column runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter @DanielHowes_TDN, listen to his Saturday podcasts, or catch him 3 and 10 p.m. Thursdays on Michigan Radio’s “Stateside,” 91.7 FM.