Be Careful What You Wish For
A community’s economic and social well-being is invariably linked to the strength of its institutions. Some are new; some have been around for decades or longer. When it comes to attracting talent and investment, however, some stand out as particularly important and need to be carefully stewarded and nurtured.
The Grand Traverse area is blessed with numerous institutions with historic legacies of positive community involvement and impact. Throughout its history, there have been bedrock institutions that have bolstered the region’s reputation and have helped place it among the most desirable destinations in Michigan and the Midwest.
Despite all we have going for us, the Grand Traverse region and its foundational strengths and attributes are not immune from the dangers of legacy quicksand. Like the fairy tale where the moral is to not kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, hanging too high of expectations or repeatedly undermining the credibility of our assets and their leaders in order to gain political strength has consequences.
Recall several years ago when our city-owned power company – with roots going back more than 100 years – became the focus of a political power struggle as some interests tried to undermine the utility’s autonomy created by city voters back in 1979. The campaign to try to make that happen was extremely personal and mean-spirited, and it took years to undo some of the damage to the reputations of the City and Traverse City Light and Power.
More recently we’ve seen institutions like Northwestern Michigan College come under fire for operational decisions. Grand Traverse County’s reputation suffers because of extensive turmoil among its leaders, resulting in significant employee turnover and slipping public confidence. Traverse City Area Public Schools’ successes and fiscal stability has been partially eclipsed in recent months by sharp words and hard feelings expressed publicly. When we casually insult the integrity, intelligence or competence of an entire class of workers or of institutions without acknowledging the good, we become part of the mob that is assaulting the good in our communities.
Now Munson Medical Center – which has tirelessly served our region for more than a century – finds itself up against a concerted public campaign from a newly created bargaining unit. It hurts personally as a member of the Munson Medical Center board, having been able to witness firsthand the world-class health care delivered by this community cornerstone, along with its powerful economic impact as one of the region’s largest employers. As an economic developer, it hurts even more because Munson Medical Center, as much or more than any other institution, is responsible for Traverse City’s steady growth as opposed to other resort areas that languish in the off season and struggle to find year-round, quality jobs for their residents.
What’s sad is that in nearly all of these situations, the sources of consternation and conflict are basic business and operational matters that organizations across the country and around the globe deal with every day. Entities that have been around for decades and generations inevitably encounter issues and challenges where reasonable people will disagree on the best path forward.
Of course institutional leaders have a responsibility to the communities they serve to be transparent and act in good faith, and to articulate a clear mission and vision to maintain the public’s confidence and support. By the same token, the people within those organizations should realize that sullying the reputations and community standing of those institutions over the issues of the day do themselves no favors in getting things resolved … and inflict longer-term damage on the patients, students, constituents, customers, employees and patrons of those institutions.
Preserving the integrity and reputations of our community treasures is every bit as important to our future as protecting the health of our signature beaches and bays. Degradation of the organizations that have built and continue to drive our region will only serve to diminish the community itself. We – and many before us – have all put too much blood, sweat and tears into these local treasures to let that happen.
Doug Luciani is CEO of TraverseCONNECT and the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at doug@traverseCONNECT.org.