Flint's problems are well known. Crime, unemployment and blight among them. But recently there have been subtle signs of a shift in Flint's economy. We visited three local businesses, all wrapped up in Flint's comeback, but of all different sizes and shapes, to "size up" the claim that Flint is on the rebound.
The Flint of the past was a world class manufacturing town. But since the 70s, a slow wave of decline kicked in, culminating in the 2008 bankruptcy of the automaker that was born here, General Motors. Meet the man that may challenge GM in the not so distant futre as the number on emplyer in Genesee County. He is Phil Hagerman and he is the President and CEO of Diplomat Pharmacy, and he's been hiring like a mad man since the local pharmacy went national, specializing in drugs that treat cancer, hormone imbalances and even AIDS. Over 300 have been hired in the last two years, but he's not stopping there.
"We believe over the next 20 years we can hire 3 to 5 thousand employees," says Hagerman with a completely serious face. He means it. 5 thousand new workers in Flint would be nearly 2/3 of the entire current GM workforce here. These are lofty goals, and ironic in a former GM facility, what was once the Great Lakes Tech Center on South Dort. It will hold 1,500 more emoloyees, and they're already retraining displaced autoworkers there, among others.
But Diplomat is just one spoke in the wheel driving a turnaround in the Vehicle City. If you haven't noticed, downtown Flint is back. Robb Klaty moved his business, the Flint Crepe Company to Saginaw Street 4 months ago to catch the wave and the crepes aren't just for breakfast. He says it is like a canvas and you can do anything you want with a crepe. His ingredients are all Michigan, mostly local from Genesee County and many of the veggies are grown in an urban greenhouse on Court Street.
Klaty says the downtown area is not only back, but businesses there are working together, unlike some cities where they are in competition. He says his desire to remain local and not leave Flint or franchise is a reflection of that comraderie. Local growing, says Klary, allows the local economy to reap the benefits and lets consumers know what they're eating and where it is from. Many of these businesses are riding the wave of college expansion, especially at UM-Flint. But add to that, innovation at Kettering University.
Kristina Kamensky wants to help local grocery stores save money on refrigeration, her state of the art lab in Kettering's innovation center is part of a new program that boast around 50 budding business owners. It gave Kristina the inspiration she needed.
"I worked at the tech works as a special manager so I met all these different entrepreneurs and I thought, 'I can do this'," said Kristina. She already has one international client and has worked with Detroit Edison, but she says even though she is not from Flint, she couldn't imagine leaving. "Its like this little gem in the rough kind of city and it has such a bad reputation, people say "you got to school in Flint" and I say "its really not that bad and its getting better, I have a lot of fun here, and I'm happy to have my company here."
So is Phil Hagerman, and if he has his way, many more people will be happy as well. "I think growth can be a steady march," says Hagerman, "I think that's what we're seeing in Flint. I think we're seeing a steady march toward an impoved economy and recapturing the strength Flint had in the past."