MICHauto Helped to Facilitate New Partnership Between City of Detroit and Honda

Glenn Stevens Jr.

While the City of Detroit’s COVID-19 cases continued to rise in early April, a new problem arose – how to safely transport sick Detroiters without transportation from theirs home to the hospitals to receive care? With more and more front line workers testing positive for COVID-19 as well, first responders were not able to keep up with the logistics duties.  A number of volunteers that could transport people stepped up, but without a way to protect the drivers from those who were ill – it would just create a larger problem for Detroit that quickly became a hotbed for the virus.

Mark de La Vergne, the chief of Mobility Innovation for the City of Detroit, put out a call for help.  The question posed to the vast mobility ecosystem in Detroit was, “could we connect the City to a company or solution for this problem?”

On April 15, as I was scanning the latest global automotive industry news, I noticed an article in the Channel News Asia website titled “Honda deploys it’s minivans to transport virus patients.”  In that article I saw a solution for our community here in Detroit. Honda Motor Company in Japan had modified 50 Odyssey minivans with a protective barrier and changes to the HVAC system to protect the driver from the sick citizen in the rear of the vehicle.

I immediately sent this article to de La Vergne at the City and suggested that a colleague in Detroit who works for Honda Communications would be the best and most effective channel to elevate an inquiry from the City of Detroit. It seemed like just the solution we were looking for.

This past weekend, de La Vergne notified me that the City followed up on the potential solution and a partnership was in the process of being forged.  View the full partnership announcement here.

For the past three years MICHauto has helped lead several partnerships to convene organizations and groups around common themes and needs for the automotive and mobility industry to help solve problems through information sharing.  One of those groups is the Detroit Mobility Coalition, a joint effort by the City of Detroit and MICHauto that convened OEMS, suppliers, foundations, economic development groups, startups, and neighborhood associations to focus on transportation and mobility technologies and solutions to improve the lives of Detroiters.

The communication that transpired the last couple of weeks to help bring this Honda solution to Detroit is just one example of how Detroiters innovate through mobility and global automotive technology to solve problems and come together.

Glenn Stevens Jr. is the executive director of MICHauto and the vice president of Automotive and Mobility Initiatives for the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Detroit-area Residents will be Transported to COVID-19 Testing in Modified Honda Odyssey Minivans

DETROITMay 5, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Honda today delivered 10 Odyssey minivans to the City of Detroit that have been specially outfitted to transport people potentially infected with COVID-19, as well as healthcare workers.  To protect the health of the driver from the potential for droplet infection during transportation, the Honda Odysseys have been retrofitted with a plastic barrier installed behind the front seating area, as well as modifications to the ventilation system to maintain an air pressure differential between the front and rear seating areas.

Honda delivered 10 Odyssey minivans to the City of Detroit to transport local residents and healthcare workers to COVID-19 testing.

These Honda vehicles have been specially outfitted with a plastic barrier installed behind the front seating area and modifications to the ventilation system to help protect the driver from potential infection during transportation.

After seeing news reports about similar specially equipped vehicles modified by Honda in Japan, officials from the state of Michigan and the City of Detroit approached Honda in the U.S. in mid-April about the possibility of acquiring similar vehicles for use in transporting local residents and healthcare workers to COVID-19 testing.  A team of volunteers at Honda’s R&D center in Raymond, Ohio, including senior engineers and fabrication experts, quickly conceived and designed a method to modify the U.S. Odyssey at the Honda R&D Americas vehicle development center in Raymond, Ohio, where it was originally developed.

“As of today, the City of Detroit has tested over 20,000 residents and employees for COVID-19.  Transportation is a critical component of ensuring every Detroiter has access to a test.  We are very appreciative of Honda for choosing Detroit to deploy these newly modified vehicles,” said Mayor Mike DugganCity of Detroit.

The team of Honda engineers and experts in Ohio took the project from the initial concept to completion in less than two weeks.  All material fabrication and installation, and adjustments to the software for the Odyssey’s ventilation system, was done entirely in-house.

“We’re very proud of the efforts made by Honda engineers in Ohio to quickly devise a plan and modify a small fleet of Honda Odyssey minivans to support the people of Detroit in the face of this unprecedented global pandemic,” said Rick Schostek, executive vice president of American Honda Motor Co., Inc. “This project is one of many initiatives being undertaken by Honda and our associates to support communities throughout the country during this very difficult time.”

The Odyssey minivan modified in Japan is a smaller vehicle than the eight-seat U.S. version of the Honda Odyssey that was designed, developed and engineered in the U.S. and is made exclusively at a Honda plant in Lincoln, Alabama.

“Several members of our team have family members or friends working in the medical field to battle COVID-19 or know people who have family members battling COVID-19 infection and this became a very personal challenge to help potential victims and their families,” said Mike Wiseman, senior director for Strategic and Materials Research of Honda R&D Americas, LLC, who led the project.  “At Honda, we believe the purpose of technology is to help people and make their lives better and we were humbled to make this commitment to potentially help save lives.”

Odyssey Modification Process:
Honda engineers in Ohio installed a sealed clear polycarbonate (plastic) panel between the front seat compartment and rear two-row seating area by removing the handgrips on the structural roof pillar (B-pillar), behind the first row, replacing it with new brackets to attach the clear panel.  A second attachment bracket was fabricated and attached to the lower front seat belt anchor point for a total of three secure attachments on each side.

In conjunction with the installation of the clear polycarbonate barrier, the Odyssey’s ventilation system software was tuned to maintain a more positive pressure zone within the front compartment to establish a designed air pressure differential between the front and rear seating areas, greatly reducing the potential for droplet infection migration during transportation.

Honda R&D engineers in Ohio designed the software that controls the ventilation system on the current-generation Odyssey. This core knowledge enabled engineers to tune the software to assure the air pressure differential is compliant with guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for negative pressure rooms in medical and research facilities.  Specifically, the software is tuned to run the blower motor powering the fans in the front seating area faster than the fans for the rear seating area. The resulting air pressure differential creates a more negative pressure chamber in the rear seating area, with rear compartment air exhausted out the vents in the rear of the vehicle.

Comments from State of Michigan Officials:
“When we developed our transportation service to the COVID-19 testing sites, we quickly realized that a lack of separation between the driver and passenger would be a limiting factor in our capacity to transport patients. This innovation from the Honda team will be critical to transporting passengers during this time,” said Mark de la Vergne, Chief of Mobility Innovation for the City of Detroit.

“Honda’s speed in addressing this challenge, paired with Detroit’s willingness to find and detail a use case for Honda, made this a model public-private partnership. The state’s goal is to conduct 15,000 tests a day. This kind of ingenuity will help us get there faster,” said Trevor Pawl, Senior Vice President at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and head of PlanetM, the state’s mobility initiative.

“As the conveners of the Detroit Mobility Coalition in partnership with the City for the past several years, MICHauto is committed to facilitating connections such as this to benefit our communities. This partnership with Honda in a time of crisis, is an ideal example of the importance of our mobility ecosystem to connect our local and state leadership and the automotive and mobility industry together. MICHauto is pleased to play a role in helping to facilitate this information and technology transfer,” said Glenn Stevens, Executive Director, MICHauto and Vice President, Automotive and Mobility Initiatives, Detroit Regional Chamber.

Honda Response to COVID-19:
Honda has undertaken several initiatives to harness the spirit of the community in responding to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Honda has teamed up with Dynaflo Inc. to produce diaphragm compressors, a key component of portable ventilators that are used in hospitals and by first responders to help those stricken with the COVID-19 virus. The companies aim to produce 10,000 compressors per month once production reaches capacity.
  • Honda associates have been deploying the company’s 3D printers to produce components for face shields at various company operations, with Honda engineers now working on a method to mass-produce the frames for face shields in Honda facilities.
  • Ten Honda facilities in North America donated over 200,000 items of Personal Protective Equipment to support healthcare providers and first responders, including gloves, face shields, N95 protective masks, alcohol wipes, half-mask respirators and other types of protective gear.
  • Honda has pledged $1 million to address food insecurity in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, providing donations to food banks and meal programs.
  • Honda also has initiated a COVID-19 Special Matching Gift Program that enables associates to make monetary donations to food programs in their local communities, matching up to $1,000 for each individual associate. The matching fund is in addition to Honda’s $1 million pledge.

About Honda in North America
Honda established operations in America in 1959 and today employs more than 40,000 associates in the development, manufacturing, and sales of Honda and Acura automobiles, Honda power equipment, Honda Powersports products, the HondaJet advanced light jet and GE Honda HF120 turbofan engines.

Based on its longstanding commitment to “build products close to the customer,” Honda operates 19 major manufacturing facilities in North America, working with more than 600 suppliers in the region to produce a diverse range of products for customers locally and globally. In 2019, more than 90 percent of the Honda and Acura automobiles sold in the U.S. were produced in North America, using domestic and globally sourced parts.

Honda also operates 14 major research and development centers in the U.S. with the capacity to fully design, develop and engineer many of the products Honda produces in North America.

Honda R&D Americas employs more than 2,000 associates in the U.S. in the research, design, development, and engineering of a variety of products including cars and trucks, ATVs and side-by-side vehicles and power equipment products. About 1,500 engineers and other staff are employed at the R&D center in Raymond, Ohio, located about 40 miles west of Columbus.



Darren Walker: Detroit’s Core Narrative is About Opportunity

Detroit has several foundations and leaders that are willing to do what needs to get done. Among these influential people and at the center of community development for more than two decades is Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. Walker’s influence spreads from helping to bring the Grand Bargain to fruition and ushering Detroit’s swift exit from bankruptcy, to working with the Rockefeller Foundation to rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

In a moderated discussion with Devin Scillian, anchor for WDIV-TV 4, Walker reflected on the Grand Bargain, his thoughts on the impact of foundations in the current state of democracy in the United States, and expounded on the Ford Foundation’s commitment to continue to invest in Detroit.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Grand Bargain was an elegant piece of problem-solving where government and public and private partners did what was needed to get the job done. Citizens, government leaders, business and philanthropic groups and retirees stepped up even if they had something to lose.
  • Recently the Ford Foundation returned to its roots in Detroit, and plans to co-locate its office with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Plans include working together with other foundations to tackle issues in Detroit.
  • The Ford Foundation has already committed $15 million a year to Detroit and the first investments will include supporting housing, community development, restoring funding to civic organizations and the issues of blight removal and putting Detroiters back to work, among many more.
  • It is always better when foundations can be in alignment and collaborate. It is impossible to do the type of work foundations do in isolation from a larger ecosystem of philanthropy and social change.
  • A foundation can only be successful if it is willing to be cooperative and will only get things done in partnership.
  • Foundations cannot solve the problems with grantmaking alone. Problems are large and require all the tools in their toolbox.
  • Top down initiatives designed by experts at the top of a social chain do not work.
  • What works is when you do not privilege credential knowledge over authentic lived experience from people on the ground giving their perspective.
  • Never take justice and progress for granted, which is why Walker believes in focusing on the three I’s: institutions, ideas and individuals.
  • In democracy, progress is usually followed by regress and backlash, something that was prominent with racial justice issues following the election of former President Barack Obama.
  • Foreign leaders around the world feel like America no longer has credibility on human rights issues, especially when there is social injustice happening in the country.
  • America has a growing inequality problem.

“At the core of Detroit’s narrative is opportunity and when people don’t feel that there is opportunity they become hopeless,” Walker explained. “Hopelessness will drive a people to do desperate things and they do those things because they’re angry, they feel unheard and overlooked. We have to have hope.”

Jeff DeGraff: Don’t Wait for the Next Best Thing to Pass You By, Innovate

By Daniel Lai 

“Innovation is a key ingredient for leaders to scale their business and sustain growth,” Jeff DeGraff, professor of business administration at the University of Michigan, said during his keynote address at the annual Middle Market CEO Summit.

“If you seek growth, innovation isn’t your best friend … it’s your only friend,” DeGraff said.

Drawing on examples from his past clients, such as Coca-Cola and Microsoft, the self-professed “dean of innovation,” said successful leaders are ones who understand the importance of:

  • Finding, developing and connecting the best people
  • Establishing a sustainable high-performing culture
  • Engaging a wide array of expertise and capability
  • Creating a collaborative learning environment

In order to accomplish those goals, oftentimes leaders must adopt a “prismatic” way of thinking, DeGraff said. The prismatic model divides innovation into four areas: collaborate, create, control and compete. Watch DeGraff’s presentation on prismatic thinking and how it can spark innovation.

Following the keynote, panelists John Fikany of Quicken Loans, Wright Lassiter III of Henry Ford Health System, and Paul Rogers, director of the U.S. Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) discussed how culture is driving innovation in their respective organizations.

“Two of the biggest issues in health care right now are preventable medical errors and the overall expense of care. Innovation is a way to solve both of these issues,” Lassiter said. “At Henry Ford we celebrate those who not only have the forethought for an idea, but also help to bring it to market.”

Pointing to the success of Henry Ford Health System’s patented Model G patient gown, Lassiter said innovation is often spawned by collaboration, adding that the hospital is currently working with a tech startup to redesign the traditional hospital bed.

Fikany said innovation is such a critical component of Quicken Loans’ success that the company gives employees a half-day weekly to follow their passion, which has led to the creation of numerous product ideas such as the high-speed internet service, Rocket Fiber, serving Detroit.

Additional coverage from the Middle Market CEO Summit:




Brinks Gilson & Lione’s Oberholtzer interviewed by Comcast Newsmakers; advises caution on collaborative projects between the auto and tech industries

Brinks Gilson & Lione’s Oberholtzer interviewed by Comcast Newsmakers; advises caution on collaborative projects between the auto and tech industries

Steven L. Oberholtzer managing shareholder of the Ann Arbor office of Chicago-based Brinks Gilson & Lione, one of the largest intellectual property law firms in the U.S., was a guest on Michigan’s Comcast Newsmakers, a news platform presenting public affairs information via interviews with local, state and federal officials and business and community leaders.

The topic of the interview, which can be viewed here, was a discussion on the unique challenges faced by traditional automakers and their supplier partners amid high profile collaborations between the auto and tech industries. Oberholtzer advises the auto industry to protect its core competencies while using shared technologies vital to the ongoing development of autonomous vehicles, hybrids and other technology-driven initiatives which reflect a fundamental shift in the auto industry. The interview followed a blog post Oberholtzer contributed to Automotive News in June 2016 on the same topic.

Oberholtzer’s practice at Brinks focuses on patent and trademark counseling, corporate intellectual property policy development and administration, technology licensing, joint development and joint venture relationship agreements. He has extensive experience with the intellectual property legal issues of the automotive industry and a lifelong interest in the industry and its products. Oberholtzer was previously employed as a senior project engineer with a domestic OEM manufacturer and as in-house patent counsel for a Tier 1 supplier. In private practice, he has acted as primary outside counsel for a number of Tier 1 and lower tier supplier engagements that include worldwide responsibility for all intellectual property issues and management of teams of attorneys handling all facets of these matters.
Oberholtzer is the principal author of a primer on intellectual property entitled, The Basic Principles of Intellectual Property Law. He holds a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Kettering University, formerly known as the General Motors Institute, and received his J.D. from the Detroit College of Law at Michigan State University.

Comcast Newsmakers is presented online at www.comcastnewsmakers.com and across Comcast’s national Xfinity on-demand service.

Brinks Gilson & Lione
The attorneys, scientific advisors and patent agents at Brinks Gilson & Lione focus their practice in the field of intellectual property, making Brinks one of the largest intellectual property law firms in the U.S. Clients around the world rely on Brinks to help them protect and enforce their intellectual property rights. Brinks attorneys provide counseling in all aspects of patent, trademark, unfair competition, trade secret and copyright law. More information is available at www.brinksgilson.com.

Walsh Leadership Center, Michigan Business and Professional Association Sign Collaboration Agreement

Walsh College and the Michigan Business and Professional Association (MBPA) have entered into an agreement to transfer affinity groups and select small- and family-business training events coordinated by the Walsh Institute Leadership Center to the MBPA, according to Stephanie Bergeron, president and CEO, Walsh College, and Jennifer Kluge, CEO, MBPA.

With the agreement, MBPA gains new programming for training, events and experience-sharing for its members. Walsh College will continue to offer specific educational resources and meeting space to MBPA.

Both Walsh and MBPA will work together and expand their individual resources in connection with group presentations and sponsorships.

The transfer is effective January 1, 2016. Jan Hubbard, director, Walsh Institute Leadership Center, moved to the MBPA effective November 30, 2015 and has been named executive director, MichBusiness.

MBPA has a long history as a member service organization with systems in place for greater efficiencies.

“We are very excited to bring affinity groups to our MichBusiness initiative. We recognize the value of peer-to-peer learning,” said Kluge.

“We welcome the Walsh groups to MBPA and hope to create many new groups for HR professionals, family businesses, food industry professionals, and women in business,” she added.

“Walsh College is pleased with this arrangement with MBPA,” said Bergeron. “We believe it best serves our valued constituencies, and we look forward to collaborating on future programs.”

Hubbard joins MBPA after 15 years in various roles at Walsh. She is a veteran of the non-profit industry, starting in Washington, D.C. with The American Advertising Federation, where she was communications director, then with the Advertising Club of Washington, D.C., as executive director.

Returning to her home state of Michigan in 1988, she was appointed director, Marketing and Communications, for the United Way of Oakland County. During her 13 years at United Way, Hubbard was a resource and a recognized leader for innovative initiatives.

She is a 25-year member of the Public Relations Society of America and a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Hubbard holds a B.A. in Communications from Western Michigan University and has completed graduate work in Strategic Leadership at Walsh College.

A celebration of the agreement is scheduled for Tuesday, December 15, 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., at Andiamo restaurant, Bloomfield Township, Mich. Media representatives are welcome to attend.

For more information on Walsh College, visit www.walshcollege.edu. Visit www.michbusiness.org for more information on MBPA.

Findings in Plante Moran’s annual innovation survey reveal major gains, with momentum continuing into 2014

SOUTHFIELD, Mich., Oct. 11, 2013 – Innovation is a priority for 94 out of 100 business leaders according to Plante Moran’s 2013 Innovation Survey results. That is 15 points higher than last year and indicative of a trend consistent with other recent high-profile surveys focused on corporate innovation.

2013 saw major gains in innovation:
• More organizations tie innovation to sustainability and growth (94 percent this year as opposed to 79 percent in 2012)
• Three out of four respondents think collaboration, rather than going it alone, speeds innovation
• New or improved products increased 10 percent, to 71 percent this year as opposed to 61 percent in 2012
• New or improved processes increased 7 percent, to 85 percent; it was 78 percent last year
• Innovation as part of strategy increased 8 percent this year, to 74 percent
• New or improved services increased by 4 percent, to 71 percent

Findings in the annual Plante Moran survey reveal strong evidence that organizations are taking the necessary steps to create a richer environment for innovation. New or improved strategies, management techniques and organizational structure all increased 3 percent year over year.

In an effort to support the increased appetite for innovation, the CPAs and consultants of Plante Moran used the survey results as a jumping off point and offer a companion report with case studies in collaboration and game changing business models, as well as conversations with experts in entrepreneurship, commercialization, innovation strategies and global matchmaking — all topics relevant to the survey respondents.

“Based on our data and that of our collaborators, we feel justified in saying that 2013 saw major gains in innovation,” said Chris Jones, leader of the Plante Moran innovation team. “And we wanted to do more than just report on the survey results. We wanted to provide information that business leaders could use. In addition to benchmarking innovation attitudes and practices, our report engages more than 50 experts, provides the best practices, and warns against pitfalls.”

Going Global
Plante Moran survey data indicates that entering new markets is the number one reason for small and middle-market companies to collaborate. Accordingly, Jones points to an article in the report that brings together experienced global alliance matchmakers to help middle market companies understand what makes a good partner.

Surfacing this year was a trend toward seeking business partners for collaboration. Three out of four Plante Moran survey respondents said they were fully convinced that they could be more successful with innovation through partnership and collaboration. Supporting this finding, the report looks at how fierce competitors General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. overcame barriers to work together to develop 9- and 10-speed transmissions.

Research and Development
Finding new sources for innovation was another trend among the respondents to the Plante Moran survey. The report explores options like incubators, research institutions, and ecosystems. There is also a discussion about when a middle market company should consider separating its R&D from operations to maximize results.

The innovators that contributed to Plante Moran’s study talk about a can-do attitude, and the report echoes that newfound confidence.

Five organizations collaborated with Plante Moran on its 2013 Innovation Survey: The National Center for the Middle Market, The TEC Institute at Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University, Detroit CBS Radio/Technology Report, World Industrial Reporter and NewNorth Center for Design in Business. To read the Plante Moran 2013 Innovation Study, please visit: innovation.plantemoran.com.

In addition to the study, Plante Moran also offers a series of webinars on various business and tax-related topics. For a complete listing of Plante Moran’s fall webinar series, registration and CPE information, please visit webinars.plantemoran.com.

Plante Moran is among the nation’s largest certified public accounting, tax and consulting firms and provides a full line of services to organizations in the following industries: manufacturing and distribution, financial institutions, service, health care, private equity, public sector and real estate and construction. Plante Moran has a staff of more than 2,000 professionals in 21 offices throughout Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois with international offices in Shanghai, China; Monterrey, Mexico; and Mumbai, India. Plante Moran has been recognized by a number of organizations, including FORTUNE magazine, as one of the country’s best places to work. For more information, visit plantemoran.com.

How innovative is your business? Plante Moran asks Midwest businesses to evaluate their “IQ” in third annual survey

SOUTHFIELD, Mich., June 18, 2013 – Building on the findings from last year’s Innovation Quotient survey, Plante Moran is back for a third year asking organizations throughout the Midwest what fuels innovation in their organizations.

The third annual innovation survey from the public accounting, tax and business advisory firm will again ask Midwest businesses and organizations to share how they use innovation to increase revenue, improve quality and cut costs. New to the survey this year will be three sections exploring collaboration, which was identified by the 2012 innovation “superstars” as key to their success.

This year the survey will continue to chart attitudes toward innovation and investigate the level of interest in and perceived barriers to partnering for innovation.

“Our goal for the survey is to provide a better understanding of the innovation process,” said Gordon Krater, Plante Moran managing partner. “Last year our analysts charted the characteristics of innovators and documented techniques for improving innovation efforts. This year we’re building on that effort and we consider the survey a conversation starter among organizations looking for ways to improve. The more people who contribute to the conversation, the stronger the information we have to share.”

The 10-minute survey, which is available here, asks C-suite executives and innovation team leaders to answer questions designed to measure innovation activity, the business value of innovation and drivers and constraints on innovation. Last year, executives from more than 550 businesses, nonprofits and governmental entities from Michigan, Illinois, Ohio and Indiana took the survey, which found that:

  •  Organizations that make a deliberate choice to build and nourish innovation can earn a significant payoff for their efforts.
  •  Survey respondents said they generated 16 percent of their revenue from new products or services introduced in the last three years.
  •  Innovators can be divided into four categories, from “accidental innovators” who dabble to “superstars,” who adopt deliberate innovation practices, establish budgets and publicly reward employees for ideas that emerge.

All survey participants will receive a customized report benchmarking their organization’s Innovation Quotient against best-in-class practices. All participants will get an advanced release of the report. The study wraps up in mid-July.
This year’s partners for the survey include: the National Center for the Middle Market, NewNorth Center, the Technology Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Institute at The Ohio State University, the Technology Report at CBS Radio in Detroit and the “World Industrial Reporter.”


Plante Moran is among the nation’s largest accounting, tax and consulting firms and provides a full line of services to organizations in the following industries: manufacturing & distribution, financial institutions, service, health care, private equity, public sector and real estate and construction. Plante Moran has a staff of more than 2,000 professionals in 21 offices throughout Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois with international offices in Shanghai, China; Monterrey, Mexico; and Mumbai, India. Plante Moran has been recognized by a number of organizations, including FORTUNE magazine, as one of the country’s best places to work. For more information, visit plantemoran.com.

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Detroit Regional Chamber’s Baruah pushes message of collaboration across divisions

From MiBiz.com
November 28, 2012

By Joe Boomgaard

GRAND RAPIDS — The key to solving Michigan’s problems and moving the state forward can be described in one word: collaboration.

That theme of coalescence as a corporate and individual citizenry was at the heart of a presentation Sandy Baruah, president of the Detroit Regional Chamber, delivered today in Grand Rapids.

Baruah, who spoke at a breakfast event sponsored by the Grand Valley State University Seidman College of Business, said while people like to “slice and dice” the state, Michigan must look beyond divisions to come up with real solutions to the issues it faces.

“Our assets in Michigan are greater than ever before and are the envy of the nation,” he said. “We have so much to build on if we can crack this code of both corporate and individual citizenship.”

Baruah said the combination of the “non-partisan” Gov. Rick Snyder, the state’s higher education system, its hub of auto industry talent and capabilities, and the portfolio of strong Michigan-based brands all have the state pointing in the right direction. He also credited the electorate for rejecting the ballot proposals earlier this month that he said would have taken the state back 50 years.

“We are operating as one Michigan perhaps more than ever before. The collaboration and partnership between east and west Michigan is not only real, it is genuine and it is productive,” he said. “I think we’re starting to realize that the differences between the east and west parts of our state actually make us stronger.”

However, the division between cities and suburbs, black versus white, county versus county, and east versus west “continues to haunt us,” Baruah said. “Like a family, we have more that unites us than divides us.”

Speaking in front of a decidedly West Michigan crowd of business leaders, GVSU administrators and students, Baruah lauded West Michigan for the strength of its business institutions, for the business community’s role in setting a regional agenda and for the successful transformation of downtown Grand Rapids “into a destination place.”

“By working together, the entire state of Michigan can learn from this example,” he said, referring to the efforts in West Michigan. “If we can crack this code of what it means to be good citizens of the 21st century global marketplace, we will own the next century as Michiganders.”

But Baruah was far from Pollyannaish about the hard work the state – and the nation – has in front of it. Getting people to work together is hindered by the deep, polarizing political divisions that are commonplace today, he said.

He blamed extreme partisans on both sides of the aisle as well as “columnists or partisans masquerading as news people” for fueling that divisiveness.

“We now have the ability to tailor our news exactly to our liking. We access news today as a society in the same way we order coffee from a Starbucks,” he said. “We get exactly what we want.”

The country, in general, has moved away from the shared national experience it once had. People watched their news from the same sources and went to work the next day and discussed the issues at the water cooler, he said.

But not all hope is lost that such collaboration and dialogue will occur. Even in deeply divided Southeast Michigan, Baruah said he is seeing signs of hope. He praised Detroit Mayor Dave Bing for being “as honest as the day is long,” Gov. Snyder’s commitment to urban areas, and the rejection of the statewide ballot proposals as evidence that the state is moving forward.

“Our country has huge challenges. Our state has huge challenges,” he said. “We can only solve these challenges if we’re able to talk to each other. That is an art, that is a skill that our nation is losing. … We need to realize what we’re doing to ourselves.”