Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Flint in the future: No Unions and a Starbucks?

What will Flint be like in 40 years? Zach Yancer, a columnist for The Michigan Times, UM-Flint's student newspaper, shares his vision of the future:
"Per this writer’s perpetual wishing, there is even a grand Starbucks CafĂ© right there in the lobby of the brand new Mestas Tower where the old dingy Genesee Tower once stood. The University long ago purchased the demolished lot from the city and built a grand 15 story modern glass and steel office building for retail, university administration, and private business office on the top five floors. They even had the decency to name it for the chancellor that started it all.

"In a partnership with Kettering University, UM-Flint long ago constructed the Flint Alternative Energy Research Partnership, spurring hundreds of millions of dollars in bio-tech, wind and solar investment. Sites where old ruined car factory lots once stood now serve as home to over a dozen wind turbine and solar panel factories, all built with union-free labor in the heart of Michigan’s old industrial core (you had to expect something from the Republican).

"The 5,000 plus jobs these factories created have been a boom to the local community."
Read the rest here.


  1. Glad the youngster is thinking about the future and taking the time to write a column. And I'm glad he's thinking positive about Flint's future. But I have to admit it's discouraging that young people are so quick to attack unions while embracing corporate monoliths like Starbucks. I mean there are locally owned coffee shops downtown now, right? And while I think some union demands might be excessive and I don't agree with some of their tactics, I do recognize that the working conditions of all workers have been improved by unions. I hate that we've come to the point where you either love unions or hate them and want them eliminated.

  2. If it's any consolation Sable Pelt, people either love Starbucks or they want them eliminated as well...

  3. I work on management's side, albeit not in automotive, but I have to agree that Yancer's analysis sounds awfully young.

    What does he think Flint and the nation would be like today if there had been no industrial unions, and workers like those who formed the UAW had made world manufacturing wages/benefits since the 1930s? How would Flint have grown large enough to support U of M, if GM had remained small due to industrial workers not making enough money to ever consider buying a new car, or sending their kids to college?

    And as to Flint becoming a nexus for alternative energy companies... we educate practically no engineers with graduate EE and ME degrees, who statistically are key to the formation of such companies. We have little background in associated technologies. We have few apparent advantages compared to five thousand other metro areas in regard to any of the necessary business or technical elements, other than the availability of out-of-work automotive-mechanical designers. We aren't a nexus for customers for such technology, or marketing communications, or trade shows. And of course, lots of folks think like Mr. Yancer, and won't go near a place that has a history of industrial unionism and middle class manufacturing pay.

    I'm 100% in favor of our marching into a glorious future, but the planning will work better if it starts with an objective focus on local advantages and a better understanding of how companies are formed and why they choose locations.

  4. Organized societies are always on the move from bad things to good things. Then over time, many of those good things become corrupted and sure enough, they start looking like bad things. This is the time for hard work and lean wages for both management and the hourly worker. The time for workers to organize will come again, when management decides that they need a larger piece of the pie at the expense of the workers. The young man who initiated this thread would most likely crumble if he found himself face to face with a cursing, tobacco chewing, godless foreman who wasn't happy with his output for the day. But that was then and this is now. Good for his sincere thoughts on the subject; we need positive thinking.

  5. Major events of 2050: Jerry Preston, still head of the Flint Visitor's office, celebrates his 143rd birthday, along with Dale Kildee, who celebrates his 580th.

    When asked about the festive birthday party, the birthday boys Kildee and Preston said "We both knew if we stuck around long enough things would change for the better in Flint. We had nothing to do with it, but are happy it finally happened."

    Michigan Governor Dan Kildee stopped by to offer his uncle well wishes.

    Larry Ford, long time head of the Flint Chamber, left town in 2022 after having presided over the most local business closings in American history. He's taken the helm of the Henry Ford museum, with himself as its main attraction. Tickets are $290 each, or $292.50 with autograph.

  6. Yancer is probably right. Flint is always behind the times, utilizing strategies that are decades too late. Theme parks, festival marketplaces, brewpubs, bistros, coffee shops, Brazilian steakhouses, and yes, college towns are passe. No wonder Flint implemented these ideas years after they were in vogue.

    In 40 years Starbucks will be even more fuddy-duddy than Dunkin' Donuts. Wind power? CONSERVATION will be the buzzword in 2050, and here will be Flint trying out an energy source downtown that should only be used in isolated rural areas.

    Flint needs to be at the cutting edge, but that hasn't been the case for nearly 100 years. College town revival fantasies are a farce. Nobody really has an original idea... except me.

    I've said it time and again, Flint needs new blood. Open the floodgates to immigrants and refugees. Give them vacant property. Allow them to build their own communities.

    Most of Amerikkka views them as pariahs, when in actuality they are the hardest working, most motivated sector of society. They will create businesses, communities, institutions, and future generations. Go to any immigrant heavy neighborhood in NYC or Chicago or Lewiston, ME or LA and you'll see countless small businesses, folks on the sidewalks, and schools overflowing with children.

    Now if we could only convince them to quaff microbrewed pale ale, move into 1500 sq. ft. condos, and scarf down overpriced yuppie food then maybe the powers that be would welcome them.

  7. Why do union-lovers always point things that have been accomplished many years ago? Yes, I get it...without them working conditions would have been terrible and management would have continued to abuse employees for far too long. What positive things have they done lately though? And by positive I mean for the whole, not just the workers. I don't consider line workers making 6 figure salaries in the prime of the big 3 to be positive. It was great for the line at the time but not for the rest of the non-auto world or the currently unemployed auto workers.

    I am not suggesting that there are no positive advancements in the last 15 years due to unions, I am just curious as to what they are, given that all arguments for unions are centered on the past. I welcome any insight because I am genuinely interested in knowing.

  8. 1. Show me the line workers making six figure "salaries." Who are these mythical figures? How many are/were there? Seriously, show me some reliable source that quantifies exactly how many shop rats were ever making over $100,000 a year and for how long. I'd love to see it. (They're hourly employees by the way, but let's not get into semantics.)

    2. Do you honestly think that corporations, given the opportunity, would not roll back workers wages, benefits and working conditions? That's what unions — with the little power they have left after a systematic campaign to destroy them — are doing right now.

    But don't worry CJ, if you're young enough you'll probably get to live in a country with no discernable union presence. I'm sure it will be wonderful. I have no doubt the corporations will give generously to their workers. I can't wait.

  9. You want an example of what unions have given you lately. How about certified skill sets in the manufacture and maintenance of domestic goods. Do you want a non union (non-certified) mechanic assembling the plane you board? Do you want a non-union (non certified) electrician wiring you home? The list is long. And yes, we should never forget just how much our fathers factory sucked, or believe me, we will be there again. Talk about being sick of hearing something, it's the 6 figure factory worker I can live without. Where did that guy work?


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at