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Pulling Together Can Make A Difference

What role Western Michigan University can and should play in Kalamazoo, in light of recent developments at Pharmacia & Upjohn, has become the subject of debate within the community and on the editorial pages of the Gazette. Several weeks ago, President Diether Haenicke put forth his thoughts on how the University could be a catalyst for the future. In recent days others have expressed their views-- some in support and others with questions.

Some have reacted to President Haenicke's viewpoint with skepticism, saying that WMU cannot create another Silicon Valley or Research Triangle Park. For the record that is not what he was espousing. Others believe, as I do, that WMU can make a difference to this community as a think tank for local leaders; as a catalyst for new enterprise; and as a resource to businesses that are here now or choose to locate here in the future.

As the new dean of the Haworth College of Business and a newcomer from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, which is well known for its own economic problems, let me share with you some of the reasons why we at the Haworth College feel that we can make a difference.

  • The Haworth College of Business is the 12th largest undergraduate business school in the nation and, as such has research, insights and perspectives that span a broad range of private and public sector experiences;
  • With thousands of our graduates and part-time MBA students in key positions throughout the region, we are closely connected to real world issues and trends;
  • Our teaching staff of over 100 has internationally recognized experts in such areas as finance, accounting, supply chain management, entrepreneurship, marketing, and human resource management, just to name just a few;
  • We are part of a university with the largest undergraduate international student population in Michigan, and with study abroad links to 45 universities and agencies worldwide. Therefore, we can relate to global as well as local issues and to the interests of small businesses as well as multinationals.

We like to say that we're in the knowledge creation and dissemination business. Such knowledge can be useful to understanding and adapting to the kind of change that this community will inevitably be facing in the months and years ahead.

An example of such knowledge that holds some relevance for our current economic uncertainties is a recent book by Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter, World Class: Thriving Locally in the Global Economy.

Kanter's research into the development strategies of hundreds of companies and eight U. S. metropolitan regions provides a framework for success, based on three critical assets:

concepts, the ability to turn the best and latest knowledge into commercial products and services;

competence, the ability to produce products and services at the highest standards of any place anywhere; and,

connections, the ability to build world class relationships that bring together resources from around the world.

Kanter offers up several model cities that exemplify putting these assets to work. One such example worth noting is Spartanburg/Greenville, South Carolina. In this model, collaboration between neighbors, business and government has created what is arguably the most welcoming environment in all of North America for direct foreign investment.

There are similar examples closer to home that we should also note. Our neighbors Grand Rapids and Battle Creek, both homes to major multi-national corporations, have turned toward local collaboration and global outreach to create their own economic resurgences.

To this writer, it appears that developing our assets and applying some of these approaches might well work in Kalamazoo. Beyond the current economic development activities and plans underway, I would encourage our local officials to consider the following:

1. Establish and implement a focused international marketing plan to broaden our prospect pool and attract foreign direct investment;

2. Develop a partnership with Battle Creek to collaborate in the attraction of foreign investment, as friendly rivals Spartanburg and Greenville have done;

3. Heighten public commitment to the issue of workplace skills through a formal "Quality in the Workplace" program, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce or some other group;

4. Develop, through inclusive community conversations, a set of critical economic, social and cultural indicators that can be monitored and benchmarked against national norms;

5. Collaboratively engage all of the region's educational institutions to conceptualize and seek external funding for multi-faceted workforce development projects.

The challenge for our community is to work together creatively and collaboratively to understand and accept the new realities of competition. We must also build and effectively communicate our own vision of world-class competence. As partners working together we can indeed make a difference.

James W. Schmotter is dean of the Haworth College of Business at Western Michigan University