ASG Chair Carlos Gutierrez's Op-Ed on The low-risk investment Detroit should make

Throughout my career as an executive in both the public and private sectors, one investment principle has stood out: people — human resources — are an organization’s greatest asset. Ensuring that you maximize the potential of your workforce by investing in their education, training, and mentorship opportunities is the first step for building a successful company, and, in the case of Detroit, a vibrant and sustainable economy.
Ben Franklin had it perfectly right: there is no other investment quite like education. It is a springboard to growth, opportunities, and jobs. It is a way to guarantee an innovative and competitive workforce. And it is an investment we should continue to be making right here in Detroit — a city I have visited frequently and long admired through my years as Kellogg CEO in nearby Battle Creek and as secretary of commerce.
After years of economic and political challenges, Detroit is now writing an inspiring comeback story. New investments in education and workforce development projects are empowering the minds of young men and women in a city that boasts a rich history of business innovation and engineering. Today, the demand for employees with advanced skills in Science, Math, Technology, and Engineering (STEM) has reached levels not seen in Detroit since the days of the assembly lines of World War II or the boom of the auto industry in the 1950s, when Detroit’s population was more than twice its current size .
I believe in Detroit, its people, and its potential. And I’m not the only one. President Barack Obama, in February, awarded a $140 million prize to Michigan to build a Department of Defense advanced manufacturing institute concentrating on lightweight and modern metals manufacturing – the first of three in the nation. Gov. Rick Snyder is implementing new programs that emphasize STEM education, including an ambitious new plan to bring skilled immigrants into Detroit as a way to accelerate the supply of STEM-educated entrepreneurs. And Mayor Duggan has made workforce development and job training initiatives a priority for his administration.
These efforts are paying off.
Companies such as Futuramic and Urban Science are now expanding in Detroit, adding hundreds of new jobs for the city.
What is vital now is building up a workforce that can populate companies like these. Programs that prioritize STEM education are a direct response to this call for action, and opportunities to pursue careers in this field must be extended to anyone with the vision and willingness to work hard, no matter their circumstances. That especially goes for women and other populations underrepresented in IT careers. Women, for example, account for roughly half the U.S. workforce, yet hold only 28 percent of the jobs in IT throughout the country.
It boils down to investments. A move to empower every talented and committed person in Detroit with new skills and education opportunities is simply an investment that must be prioritized.
As co-chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group (ASG), I believe corporations should actively pursue opportunities to support public sector job training initiatives. ASG is working with an IT company, UST Global, to support STEM education efforts in Detroit and other cities. UST Global’s program, “Step IT Up America,” provides motivated students from underserved populations the opportunity to pursue dynamic and long-term careers in Information Technology.
Graduates of the fully-funded Step IT Up Program will be guaranteed jobs from UST Global in Detroit, and contracted to participating corporations, with salaries starting above Detroit’s median household income. The program seeks to place at least 100 Detroit-based students in IT jobs over the next year, and will be scaled as more students are recruited and trained over the years to come. This is not an experiment: UST Global has already deployed this innovative training program in countries throughout world, and has started in other select cities in the U.S.
Efforts like these that create access to STEM training and job opportunities for underserved populations will improve the competitiveness and ingenuity of Detroit’s workforce.
An investment in STEM training will pay dividends and bolster Detroit’s potential by creating new education and employment opportunities for its communities and its citizens. From my experience, what better investment is there than that?
Carlos Gutierrez is chairman of the Albright Stonebridge Group, a commercial diplomacy firm based in Washington, D.C., and is formerly U.S. commerce secretary.
Read the Op-Ed at Detroit News