Finley: Business leaders ‘hungry to help’ Flint

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Mackinac Island — Michigan’s top business executives are preparing to launch a major offensive on behalf of the troubled city of Flint.

In two weeks, some of the state’s top business minds will converge on the city for an intensive, firsthand look at the challenges Flint faces, and to figure out how their expertise and the resource of their companies can hasten its recovery from the water crisis.

“The business community is hungry to help,” says Mark Davidoff, chairman of the Detroit Regional Chamber, who will announce the Flint Day initiative Thursday at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference. “Unless you’ve spent time there, you don’t have a full understanding of the totality of what Flint faces.”

The initiative is part of the response to critics of the annual conference who accused the chamber of ignoring Flint in putting together the agenda for this week’s gathering. When a featured speaker scheduled for Thursday canceled, a panel on Flint was added that includes Mayor Karen Weaver. The Flint Challenge had raised nearly $100,000 Wednesday afternoon in relief funds.

Davidoff, managing partner of Deloitte’s Michigan office, volunteered for a month in Flint to help Weaver with special projects related to the city’s recovery from the lead poisoning of its water system. He realized how much Flint needed beyond donations of bottled water and other relief measures.

The city needs a strategy for the long term, he says. So he’s rallying the Detroit chamber, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Grand Rapids chamber to join the Flint chamber on June 14 to meet with city and civic officials.

The 50-75 executives will sit down with the people already working in Flint to not only fix the water system, but also to restart economic development efforts and stabilize a city that was in trouble before the lead crisis struck.

They’ll also go into the community to meet with residents and business people, to hear firsthand their challenges and hopes for their city.

And then they’ll brainstorm ideas for how they can contribute both as a group and as individual companies.

“The people who live in Flint want the same things everyone else does — economic development, jobs, education,” Davidoff says. “They want a better life for their community.”

Davidoff hopes the business leaders can find opportunity in its misery.

“The water crisis has brought a fair amount of attention to Flint, and a widespread desire to help,” he says. “How do we leverage the moment?”

Flint’s problems, he says, are Detroit’s problems, and Michigan’s problems, and Grand Rapids’ problems.

“We have to act as one Michigan,” he says. “The world is watching us, so it is important we work together to send a message of a united state.”

The expectation is that Flint Day will produce long-term partnerships between the companies and the city and its various institutions to tackle specific projects.

“We’ll be looking for the places we can be most helpful,” Davidoff says. “We’ve had a great response from our members. We want to take the time to make sure we are applying our resources in the right ways, and meeting the needs identified by the people of Flint and its leaders.

“Our goal is to put Flint in a better position than it was before the crisis.”