KALAMAZOO — Kalamazoo symbolizes the type of community people would like to live in, and technological advances are making it more of a reality, said Joel Kotkin, author and nationally-recognized authority on global, economic, political and social trends.
Kotkin, a Distinguished Presidential Fellow at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., was one of several speakers at Southwest Michigan First’s second annual Catalyst University held Thursday at the Radisson Plaza Hotel and Suites in downtown Kalamazoo. More than 400 leaders representing the area’s business, education, and non-profit sectors attended the two-day event which began Wednesday.
“People would like to live in smaller communities if they could. The real growth will be in communities with populations between 100,000 and 500,000,” Kotkin said. “This is one of the key opportunities for this community.”
Younger people in particular want to locate in an area of the country where they can enjoy an affordable lifestyle and have access to the types of technology that tie Southwest Michigan to U.S. and global markets, Kotkin said.
“Young people motivate us. If you take that away, you’re not a good leader,” he said. “Young people are like the yeast in the economy.”
However, Kotkin predicted there will be extreme regional and state competition for these individuals. Rather than trying to become the next Austin, Texas, or Madison, Wis., Kotkin suggested that community leaders capitalize on the qualities and characteristics which make their communities unique.
He said a good question to ask is, “Is this city a place where someone could come to transform themselves and their lives?”
“Just being in the Cool Cities program is not going to grow your cities,” Kotkin said. “You need to understand who you are and why you’re here.”
The title of Kotkin’s presentation — “The Next Hundred Million” — was taken from the title of his new book, “The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050,” which explores how the nation will evolve in the next four decades. He said the United States is in a good position to take advantage of future growth in Africa and Asia.
Residents of these continents increasingly desire a middle class lifestyle which will enable them to live more comfortably. To get there they will need access to the types of products and services which will help them achieve a better standard of living.
Kotkin said leadership at all levels in the United States need to figure out how to sell products in those parts of the world which are growing.
“We are the only advanced country in the world with a growing population and tremendous resources,” Kotkin said. “We are in a relatively good position. We have to believe in ourselves and know that we’ve got to compete in a global marketplace.”
Countries such as Australia, Canada and Germany were better able to weather the global economic meltdown because they manufacture and sell “stuff,” Kotkin said.
That “stuff” can be any number of things. As an example, Kotkin talked about the increased demand from China and India for fresh fruits and vegetables and protein-packed foods.
“The U.S. and Canada together are agricultural superpowers,” Kotkin said. “Water is important and you’re sitting among the largest freshwater reserve in the world.”
Michigan, he said, has the resources, in addition to an enormous amount of skill and technical talent to be part of any national effort to sell globally. Even though the state has a long way to go, Kotkin said he thinks it has the types of communities many people would like to call home and do business.