Creating a Team of Detroit Problem-Solvers

Here’s an idea for you: Take Michigan’s unemployed population, and put them to work fixing what’s broken about Detroit.

You know those under-employed engineers? Maybe they could use their expertise in streamlining processes to reconfigure the city’s budget issues. How about the automotive designers? They could dream up a better school system. And the manufacturing, transportation and warehousing professionals? They could create efficiencies, free up cash and get things clicking.

That, in part, is the suggestion of government efficiency expert Ron Wince, President and CEO of Guidon Performance Solutions in Mesa, Arizona. Wince has two decades experience working with government agencies to improve efficiency while cutting costs.

Wince, like the rest of us, is fond of our Little Big City. He notes: “I love Detroit. Certainly, you guys have had your challenges. But it’s a great city.”

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And cutting costs just isn’t going to cut it in Michigan, especially Detroit. Cities like Detroit are facing a maelstrom of epic proportions: declining population, aging society, health-care costs, property taxes and other revenue-generating areas in steep depressions. And spending in entitlement areas, like pensions, just seem to be going up.

“Because of all that, just simply whacking the budget isn’t going to solve the problem like some people think it will,” Wince told me this week. “Old playbooks aren’t going to help in this particular environment.”

That’s where innovation has to come into play. Governments – indeed, all of us here – need to be more open to innovative approaches. In Detroit’s case, the city could take a long, hard look at where it can add value to the system. For example, the city could make it easier to start a business, perhaps through the permitting process. Like, today…not two or three years from now. Investing in these areas would make fast changes: a new entrepreneur class, increased investment, revenue streams, that kind of thing.

As for hiring the un- and under-employed, that’s a no-brainer. Get these folks to work at little to no cost helping city government. Yes, you’d have to give them some flexibility for when (hopefully) they get job interviews. They learn about how government works, the city benefits from new ideas. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom. We got ourselves a functioning municipality.

“You have such innovative, bright people here. They’ve spent their entire careers trying to solve these problems. It’s such a shame not to use their skills,” Wince says. “There’s plenty of work to do.”

Wince has fixed problems for companies in Michigan. He has fixed problems for states across the nation. He knows this stuff. Detroit has all the expertise and capability we need; we just need an approach to corral it, he says.

For the past year or so, I’ve seen tons of cooperation, collaboration, coordination. Detroit is joining forces all over: foundations, community groups, business leaders, business incubators, economic-development organizations. The foundation is there, or at least it is starting to be. We’ve got the funding (mostly), we’ve got the smarts (most of the time) and we’ve got the people (for now).

It’s a frustrating wait. It’s painful and slow and full of doubt. But if we could get some of this stuff off the ground – this innovative idea stuff – then Detroit could have a chance to be something again.

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