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As many of my colleagues have mentioned, Intel chairman Craig Barrett visited BusinessWeek recently. His acidic tone and frustration and discontent with the state of America were palpable. I don’t want to go over old ground, and I recommend that you watch the video interview he filmed with Bruce, but his comment on the state of the American nation has been echoing in my head:
I don’t think we in the United States have chosen to compete yet. We’re still sitting on the sidelines basking in the glory of past years.
I spent last weekend in Detroit, where I took the pictures you see here. I’m still processing what I saw. First things first, it’s a beautiful city. Some of the architecture is truly amazing. But it’s eerily empty. And in many places, buildings aren’t merely boarded up; they’re simply deserted. Post-apocalyptic is the only way to describe it, even though I hate to sound so dramatic when this is still a living and working city.
Yet it also has a 20th century feel, which I think is why Barrett's comment is still resonating. A tour to the Henry Ford museum to see the Rouge factory plant, which produces F150 trucks yet has been non-operational since June, merely emphasized that the automaker's glory days are over while it hasn't worked out its place in the here and now. Bill Ford pops up on a video on the bus that transports visitors to the plant to wax lyrically about the past and hopefully about the future, yet his words ring hollow. The plant is being retooled to build the 2009 F150. No mention of green; no mention of innovation; just more (or rather less) of the same. Even the plant's much-fabled "green roof" is, well, brown.
People of the city deserve better. One guy I spoke to graduated with an MBA earlier this year. He doesn't want to leave Detroit but can't find work -- anywhere. Indeed, a report released today by the Economic Policy Institute estimates that Michigan has the highest rate of unemployment in the nation, at 8.9% for August, with 26,100 manufacturing jobs lost since December 2007. Others spoke with a mixture of civic pride and confused hopelessness. They know the bleakness of their situation as they can't believe that they'll really be abandoned.
Yet bailouts and a remit to carry on as before can't be the answer. Real change is necessary to stop the rot and bring back smart thinking and innovation to a city that needs to forge the appropriate, useful future that America so desperately needs. Once again, Barrett puts it more eloquently than I do:
It's not about sending manufacturing jobs to Detroit. It's not about a bailout for the automakers. Let's talk about investing in the industries of the 21st century for a change...
Talk in the U.S. that we're going to bring back high-paying, low-skilled manufacturing jobs is crazy. It's not going to happen. The only way the U.S. will maintain its standard of living is with a well-educated workforce adding value at the high end. To do that, you need smart people with smart ideas.
What you clearly don't need is more of the same. The Presidential candidates sure have a lot on their plates at the moment. But let's hope that amid the economic turmoil of Wall Street, Main Street doesn't get overlooked.
What comes next? The Bloomberg Businessweek Innovation and Design blog chronicles new tools for creativity and collaboration, innovation case studies in both the corporate and social sectors, and the new ideas that have the power to change the way things have always been done.