The Hon. Dayne Walling

The Hon. Dayne Walling

Flint’s Future

Editors’ Note

Mayor Dayne Walling was elected to his current post in August 2009. Mayor Walling’s past professional experience includes Owner and Manager of 21st Century Performance, work with the Genesee County Land Bank’s affiliated Genesee Institute, and Founder of Flint Club. Mayor Walling has also worked with the Urban Coalition of Minnesota. He was an aide to Washington, D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, and worked for U.S. Congressman Dale Kildee.

Mayor Walling has the distinct honor of being Flint’s only Rhodes Scholar. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social Relations from James Madison College at Michigan State University; a second Bachelor of Arts in Modern History from St. Peter’s College, University of Oxford; and a Master of Arts in Urban Studies from Goldsmith’s College, University of London. He also pursued doctoral studies in Geography at the University of Minnesota, with a fellowship from the National Science Foundation. Mayor Walling is an active member of Court Street United Methodist Church in Flint.

Are the opportunities for businesses to successfully establish themselves in Flint well understood, and has the city done an effective job of getting that message out?

Flint was a celebrity city even before Michael Moore made his Roger & Me documentary because we are the home and the birthplace of the largest corporation in the world in the 20th century, as well as where the United Auto Workers won their historic victory against General Motors and established collective bargaining rights for unions, which led to the creation for the first time in American history of a large middle class. The city continues to wrestle with its past, but the people and businesses that are here know very well the rich assets, the talents of the workforce, and the expansive infrastructure that’s here – all the remnants of what General Motors had pulled together for its production purposes.

Part of my job is to promote this community and its assets and to focus on the great bargain that this community is, because costs of land are so cheap, the labor force is willing to work for very modest wages, and it has a high retention rate because folks are scared of becoming another one of the unemployed. So we do have some significant competitive advantages, and we need to get businesses and prospective home owners to look beyond these past decades of trouble and see the opportunity that genuinely exists here.

Are you interested in broadening into new sectors, and are there particular industries you are focused on that people might not be as aware of?

The most important new sectors we’re bringing to Flint are those based in intermodal transportation and logistics. We have an underutilized international airport system. There is a new FedEx center opening there, and an additional intermodal road-to-rail-to-air warehousing facility that was jointly supported by public and foundation dollars. You combine that with one of the largest ground fields in the state of Michigan – formerly the Buick City site – and there is more than a square mile of property adjacent to an interstate expressway that has a north-south rail spur. We’re also actively working with Motors Liquidation Company to finalize the plan for environmental remediation so that private investors can take a look at an intermodal concept for the southern portion of that site, and that would be a large-scale road-to-rail intermodal facility. Flint is actually halfway between Toronto and Chicago. So for any shipping from Canada that doesn’t want to get bottled up in Detroit’s traffic, we are the natural alternate route. As international trade continues to be such a big part of this global economy, we’re well-positioned to see some growth in not only the manual physical intermodal work, but also in the logistics management workforce that goes with that. So that’s one of the areas where we’re trying to leverage the assets from sites that used to be assembly and making them useful in an age more focused on transportation of international goods than on domestic assembly.

Also, General Motors has committed to utilizing four of our local plants as part of their production of the Chevy Volt. So it’s an exciting prospect for Flint to continue to be a part of a reinvented American automobile industry.

The third thing is that we’re also a city that has tremendous growth around our institutions of higher education, and I don’t think there’s going to be any bigger business in the 21st century than higher education. Within our greater downtown core, we have a world-class community college; a branch of the University of Michigan-Flint, which has degrees from Bachelors all the way up through M.B.A.’s and Doctorates; and we have a world-class engineering school, Kettering University (formerly General Motors Institute), which consistently ranks in the top 10 of engineering programs in the country. We have over 20,000 college students in Flint.

How critical is a public/private partnership for Flint, and how have you tried to engage the business community and leaders in many of the issues you’re dealing with?

Every city in this country that has found a way to transform has done it through strong engagement between the public and private sectors, and Flint is not going to be the exception. I have spent considerable time with our Regional Chamber of Commerce and other prospective businesses and investors. In my position as Mayor, I serve on the operating board of the Genesee Regional Chamber of Commerce and have been involved in the technical work around the intermodal corridor and around comprehensive economic development strategy, not only for Flint, but for the wider Genesee County region. It’s something that I devote a lot of time to.

We’re working through a full recodification of our ordinances, some which go back more than 100 years. We’re trying to do our part at City Hall to cut the red tape and make it easier for businesses to expand and to locate here. I’m also out actively working with the business community on the long-range initiatives that create a climate where private enterprise can grow and flourish. The coalition I’ve put together is bringing everyone to the table and making sure that everybody’s voice is heard.

Many talk about the challenges in getting top talent to serve in public office and government today. Have you been able to bring in the type of people you need to address the various challenges?

This is how we’ve able to achieve so much in less than 100 days in office. Every person I asked to serve in a position stepped up and said yes. We’ve got the most educated, qualified, and diverse team that has ever led the city of Flint, so it’s really exciting to work with this group. There is mutual accountability, tremendous work ethic, and everyone has a commitment to serving this city.