Archive for March, 2008

Mar 31 2008

The Pied Piper of Ann Arbor

Published by under Politics

Every time I attend the college graduation of one of my son’s friends or the son or daughter of family friends, I am reminded of the somber folk tale read to us when we were children “The Pied Piper of Hamlin”. You all remember the story of how the children of Hamlin were mysteriously lead away by the piper when the residents of Hamlin, Germany failed to make good on their promise to “Pay the Piper” after he cured a rat infestation. The Brother’s Grimm never revealed the ultimate fate of the children but one theory is that they were lured away by the 13th century equivalent of a “head hunter” to help colonize parts of Eastern Europe. [1] The grim reality is that like the children of Hamlin, our children and other young professionals are leaving Michigan in droves for greater opportunity in cities like Chicago, Washington DC, Atlanta, Denver and Boston. My most recent reminder was after a recent MBA graduate and new client of my office informed me that he was the only graduate from the University of Michigan MBA Class of 2008 that was staying in Ann Arbor. What a tragedy!

Why should we be concerned about this modern day brain drain? Several weeks ago I was lucky enough to have coffee with a local expert, Lou Glazer of Michigan Future, a local nonpartisan think tank. Lou started me thinking (I guess that is what ‘think tanks” are supposed to do!) about what we as a city can do to “pay the piper” to keep our young professionals from being lured to greener pastures. Some of what we discussed disturbed me more than the Brother’s Grimm. We all understand that it is foolish to expect a recovery in the Big Three that will restore the Michigan economy to the “Good Old Days” of job security, 30 years and out, defined benefit pension plans and lifetime medical insurance. Lou maintains that the best hope for Michigan is for us to transform our economy from a manufacturing base to a “knowledge based economy”. Management Guru, Gary Hamel said it best in his recent best seller about the transition from “bolts and rivets” to “bits and bites” when he points out the inscription on the back of the Apple iPod, “Designed in California, made in China”. [2] Now you can begin to see the problem of losing all our college graduates…. who is left to design the next iPod?

Consider also…if we are lucky enough as a city to attract a dozen more “Google’s” to Ann Arbor, how will they find qualified employees? If our pool of talented young professionals dries up completely, why would the next “Google” even want to locate here to begin with? Finding the answers to these questions is the key to keeping Ann Arbor as the “World Class” city we are accustomed to and to position ourselves as the economic wind that will help propel the rest of the state out of the financial “Horse Latitudes” and into the “Trade Winds”.

My personal thoughts are that we need to revitalize downtown Ann Arbor to better accommodate these young professionals. Providing a “hipper” downtown with affordable housing suitable for the “Millennials” as they are sometimes referred to with plenty of parks, arts and public transit is a good place to start. Sounds like a place even a baby boomer would be proud of! How would you suggest we “stir the pot” to get things started? Let me know.


[1] Die Rattenfängersage aus namenkundlicher Sicht, in: Niedersächsisches Jahrbuch für Landesgeschichte 69 (1997), pp125–183 courtesy of Wikipedia.


[2] Hamel, Gary with Bill Breen, The Future of Management, (Harvard Business School Press, 2007) Pg. 60.

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Mar 31 2008

How Do You Spell Relief?

Published by under On the campaign trail

As I have never run for public office I am a bit mystified by the whole political process. In order to get on the official ballot, I needed 100 signatures from registered voters in Ward 2. Thanks to those of you that signed. Seems like many people thought I was trying to steal their identities and would not sign and I have heard some horror stories about candidates not getting their Nominating Petition in one time, signing and dating it wrong or any number of things that can make the signatures invalid. I pride myself on my organization skills and diligence so I went to great length to make sure my petitions were submitted on time and correctly. After much unnecessary anxiety, I got the call from the City Clerk’s office after only 4 hours of waiting and I am now an official candidate for City Council in Ward 2.

Very efficient job by the City Clerk’s Office.

As I get into this campaign more and more I am finding that we are blessed as a City to have such great and talented people staffing our City offices and getting the jobs done despite budget and staffing cuts. My hat’s off to them. I have been trying to get out and meet as many of them as I can. Last week I met with Mark Lloyd of Planning and Zoning. Mark is an amazing person that seems to be responsible for almost everything! You may recognize him as the person that magically appears on CTN when council members have a question on a building or zoning issue. Turns out that he wears a lot more hats than we know and I wonder how he has time to get it all done. Thanks Mark for a job well done.

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Mar 18 2008

Why I Am Running!

Published by under Politics

I have announced my candidacy for Ann Arbor City Council for Ward 2.

But first let me express my personal thank you to Joan Lowenstein, our current councilwoman. Joan has tirelessly served our ward for 6 years and deserves our appreciation. Joan is running for 15th District judge and I wish her the best of luck in her new endeavor. She is open-minded, fair, and deliberate and will make an outstanding judge.


Many of you have asked me why I want to get involved with politics, especially Ann Arbor politics. That is very good question and I would like to address it because it gets right to the heart of what I plan to do if I am elected.


For much of the past half-century, it has been Ann Arbor’s good fortune to have two large and stable employers in the area. As a result, Ann Arbor has been isolated from the devastating effects of the Michigan and to a lesser extent the national business cycle that have inflicted considerable economic hardship on most of our great state. Over the past two years however there are a number of secular changes that have taken place in our economy that have created a “Perfect Storm” of events that have brought the current recession inside the boundaries of Washtenaw County and to the doors of our city.


Evidence of the sea change of economic events has become obvious to most of us but many of our residents and elected officials are still trying to do business as usual. Unfortunately, this time “it is different” and with the synergistic effects of the departure of Pfizer, the continued restructuring of our automobile industry and consequent job losses, the mortgage liquidity problem, declining real estate values, escalating health care costs and an already high tax structure, it is no wonder that many residents are finding it hard to make ends meet.


I love Ann Arbor and have made it home for myself and my family for 45 of my 60 years. So consider:

  • How can I sit by and watch and listen to City Council debate spending $47M on a renovation for our municipal building while 2200 residents of Washtenaw County lost their homes in 2007?
  • How can I watch a number of restaurants in our community struggle or close while an inexpensive liquor license is selfishly awarded to our municipal golf course?
  • How can I not do something when our kids are all leaving, maybe for good, when we have solid developers that want to invest millions in downtown buildings, some that have been vacant for years and the City Council votes it down?

I am certain you have many of your own concerns and I would love to hear them. That is how participatory democracy works.


Rather than leaving the future of Ann Arbor to the whims of the politics as usual mindset, I would like to test my leadership skills, honed by military service and business building, to help Ann Arborites articulate a vision of where we would like to be in ten years, begin to put a world class team together to help get us there and then start to create an environment that will allow dedicated men and women to deliver on that promise.


Over the next few months, I will put together the specifics of my plans to keep Ann Arbor a great place to live work and raise a family. I welcome your ideas and suggestion and promise I will do my best to make sure that we all have a say in how we are going to get there.


Paid For by The Stewart Nelson For City Council Committee


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