Sustainable Business Learning Community Conversations, November 2016 - December 2016
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Sustainable Business Conversation, November 3, 2016 Topic: Green Infrastructure
We seem to have fewer journalists these days – and hardly any journalists following local stories.
I live in Livonia and was surprised when they flipped their waste management contract a year or so ago. The new company is Rizzo Environmental Services, which has been in the news recently related to allegations of bribery and corruption in Macomb County. Why did Livonia change its contract for trash hauling? Is there any way to know if it was for valid reasons?
The Dearborn Press and Guide now has only one reporter on staff for local issues. It seems like that’s not enough. A lot of things are posted on the internet based on questionable facts and research. There is no editorial review for bloggers. Some of us no longer read magazines but rely on online news via Twitter and Facebook, plus maybe one newspaper (Free Press).
Several of us have experienced inept billing from utilities in Detroit in the past. One person lived in a Detroit home with gas and electric services but never received a single bill for a 10 year period. Finally, the gas was shut off. Now things are resolved – but why did DTE send no bill for 10 years? Someone else lived in Detroit and paid their water bill on time for 10 years, but one day DWSD came and shut off their water with no warning. It was a mistake that was fixed eventually, but that’s a big mistake.
Like many other utility companies, DTE and Consumers Power must replace natural gas lines in their service areas. DTE has a 32 year program to do this. All over the US we are dealing with aging infrastructure. Older gas lines can be very unsafe and must be replaced. We don’t really plan ahead for these things.
Water is such a precious resource. You’d think we would need to pay more for water than we do. Do Detroiters pay higher water and sewer bills than other communities. Some one heard that Detroiters pay 40% more – is this true? Some communities (Gross Pointes) have already replaced their combined sewer with a modern separated sewer system. Expensive – but it solves the storm water overflow problem permanently. Dearborn is taking on a multi-year project to replace combined sewers.
What about the Dioxane plume in Ann Arbor which is creeping close to the Huron River. Who will pay for a cleanup? The company that caused the chemical release in the 1970s is out of business. Banks and insurance companies care about pollution. A polluted parcel of real estate will have a lot less value than a clean parcel. There’s a ton of work that needs to be done but no one wants to pay for it. Big government solutions have their problems. Government tries to put controls in place to try to prevent fraud, corruption and waste, but these controls are not totally effective. Small solutions to these problems may be better. Metro Detroit is made up of 182 individual communities, many of which have their own school systems, police departments, water boards and other municipal services. Is this inefficient? Bus service needs to include all communities in a service area, but here, communities have the ability to opt out in terms of mass transit. You can’t run an effective transit system for a patchwork with many pieces missing. We need to invest in infrastructure that lasts – not just the cheapest possible option. Communities need to be fiscally strong and question whether all growth is good for the community.
Sustainability Discussion, November 10, 2016 Topic this week: How we get and communicate our information today - how modern communication helps our businesses, and sometimes makes things more complex. There are way fewer journalists now days. Traditional news outlets such as newspapers and news magazines (like Newsweek) are dying out. The Detroit Free Press has no more reporters in Lansing. Reporters used to do research and write articles about important legislation – but now no one covers this. The Sunday paper has a list of Michigan legislation in progress, but its otherwise not covered. No details to help people understand the issues. How people get their information can affect your business. When you need information about permits and regulations in Detroit, there is no one stop shop for someone who wants to start a business. You have to run around to 7 or 8 city departments and its hard to know what questions to ask. It doesn’t work to call a city department – no one will answer the phone. You must go there in person. The internet has some data about permits but its hard to decipher the meaning. Data Driven Detroit has some information that’s accessible – but not enough. The best way to figure it out is to talk to people who have opened businesses in Detroit and find out how they got their information. Zillow has a good tool called rent links that points to information on housing. It's a challenge to find qualified contractors to work on real estate. My best luck has been through referrals. I like to get three quotes for a job – but its very difficult to find 3 qualified contractors. This is a boom time for building contractors in Detroit and everyone is very busy. I belong to a Business Network International (BNI) group which is a structured networking group. Participants are measured by how many referrals we pass on. Everyone is striving to run an ethical business and people follow up. We meet every Friday from 7 to 8:30 and attendance is mandatory. We create social capital and that brings in business. When your marketing is not face to face, people game the system. Some businesses create fake 5 star ratings on sites like Amazon by getting fake customers to create glowing reviews. A law in California has required full disclosure of all bills and proposals to each voter. Recently ballots have been 241 pages long. Too much information (much of which is hard to understand) is much the same as no information. Social media is the way to get information for lots of businesses and also to spread the word about their business. Big advertising agencies are too expensive for most small businesses. A slick ad campaign does not give street cred. Katoi (new Asian restaurant in Detroit) got started by doing pop-ups, a food truck and word of mouth. The business was built from the ground up and is now very successful. Business leadership is increasingly distracted – tendency to think short-term, not long-term. Do we all have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) from so much social media? We tend to take in headlines and highlights through social media. Flipping through multiple posts is enjoyable and addictive. My experience of reading the Wall Street Journal on paper is different from reading it online. I have more patience and it seems more real to read a paper copy. I love going to the library and seeing books and wandering through the stacks. Is what we see on TV really news – or is it distraction? News seems to be limited to fires, death and murders. We view information through an ethnocentric lens. We all have our own filters made of preconceived notions and prejudices and tend to stay in our own bubble. Filters impact our ability to understand information from people different from us. Its easy to be judgmental and not open to new ideas.
Sustainability Discussion, December 1, 2016 Topic this week: Importance of religious communities in Detroit – and how they relate to business’ We started out talking about the situation with DWSD storm water drainage charges. We wish there had been a more open discussion about how to solve the storm water problems and we wish there was more education going on about green infrastructure and more ways to fund it. Detroit seems to be increasing its city planning staff which adds significant costs to city government. IN contrast, Houston has no zoning and has a very small city planning staff to cover a huge area (approximately equal to Wayne Oakland and Macomb counties combined). It seems to work there. The new city planners arriving in Detroit mostly come from different cities and are not grounded in Detroit’s history and neighborhoods. Importance of religious communities: several of the larger churches in Detroit (Little Zion Baptist, Messiah, and Greater Grace Temple) also encourage small business and entrepreneurship. The Downtown Synagogue in Detroit was re-opened by a group of younger people with a lot of energy. The community is very liberal is focused on social justice, urban farming and issues related to bring back Detroit. Several large charities have sponsored work events that brought a lot of people to a neighborhood for a few hours to work on something. Too often the neighborhood people are not involved and were not part of the planning. It’s better to build long term relationships and get local leadership (when possible). Some locals look at these big groups of volunteers and ask “who are you people?” Folks can be very skeptical of do-gooders who fly in and don’t want to be looked down on. Building relationships takes time, but to have a lasting impact it’s important to develop relationships with the community. Charity is doing for people. Community building means working together to improve communities. However some neighborhoods are splintered and it can be very hard to get people to work together. I worked on a Habitat project in Detroit some years ago that brought in a lot of volunteers. Jimmy Carter sponsored it and 30 houses were built. Some of the locals who did not get a new house resented the development – the project was troubled. This build was not a long-term success. When I went back recently, the house I’d helped build was burned to the ground. It’s better to help someone who has requested help. When my sons were student in Detroit schools, a suburban charity sent home a pillow and blanket for each student. I found it sort of insulting. Did they think I could not provide bedding for my children? A different charity works closely with classroom teachers and asks in advance what is really needed. Some families need food baskets, some need warm clothes in appropriate sizes. You can offend someone if you send something home that is not needed. Temple Israel as teamed with the Northwest Activity Center in Detroit for Project Healthy Community. They help with a food pantry, medical and dental services, mentoring and a garden project. Motor City Focus brings together several Orthodox churches for projects. The Capuchins provide a wonderful soup kitchen, bakery clothing source and garden programs. Many food banks cooperate in a network to share resources and make sure no one organization is overwhelmed with too much food.