For George Wilkinson, the journey has been full-circle.
A Flint native, his career and travels through the corporate world groomed him for a return home many would say put him in a key position at a crucial time.
As group vice president for the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce, Wilkinson helps guide the vision of community revival and economic renewal, shared by thousands of residents and business leaders. He hopes to build on recent gains the city has accomplished through Flint Sprint, the Chamber’s 60-day campaign to pair successful companies with neighborhood agencies and service organizations.
“I would say that public perception of our area is critical, too.” -George Wilkinson, Group Vice President, Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce
“It really started with the (Moving Flint Forward) Leadership Summit in June,” says Wilkinson. “We brought about 100 executives to let them know what was going on with the water crisis, bringing them up to speed.”
Along with Deloitte LLP, the Detroit Regional, Michigan, and Grand Rapids Area Chambers of Commerce, the Flint & Genesee Chamber held the summit to better promote Flint as a viable community, despite fears stemming from contaminated tap water, which negatively impacted the local economy.
“All of these executives came together to talk about how they could help move Flint in a positive way,” Wilkinson says.
Flint Sprint, which ends Nov. 30, provides pro bono support on a condensed timeline for designing and launching plans that will be executed by Flint-based organizations and programs. AT&T, Consumers Energy, Downtown Detroit Partnership, ChoiceTel, and Rush Trucking are among corporate sponsors that will assist partners, including the City of Flint, Flint Community Schools, Hamilton Community Health Network, and YWCA of Greater Flint with efforts spanning from public light improvement to Hispanic-translation marketing materials and women’s empowerment programs.
“The business community is saying, ‘Let us fill the gap. Let us do this on a pro bono basis, to address some of the concerns,’” Wilkinson says.
With a biography that lists multiple titles that include the words “vice president” and “chair,” Wilkinson knows a few things about facilitating organizational need.
After attending Southern University on a basketball scholarship and earning a business management degree, he studied at Central University before returning to Flint to work at General Motors in the 1980s. Wilkinson eventually traveled to Argentina to work as GM’s head of logistics, later operating in a similar post at Dana Corp.
After landing back in Flint he served in various positions before joining the Chamber as a consultant, which led to his joining the executive staff.
An ordained minister, Wilkinson also serves on multiple boards. Along with business revitalization, he says public safety and public school education are among the community’s most significant issues.
“I would say that public perception of our area is critical, too,” he adds.
A lingering perception is Flint is in “dire, dire straits,” but the city has valuable assets and resources, such as its cultural center and health facilities, says Wilkinson. The community is also “transforming” from an automotive economy to one that attracts diverse corporate investment. For example, Diplomat Pharmacy is “growing by leaps and bounds,” he says.
Meanwhile, the iSource Worldwide tech company moved into the historic Dryden Building, instead of relocating 100 jobs to California.
“There are also new and expanding businesses,” says Elaine Redd, Flint & Genesee Chamber spokesperson. “Investors are still showing confidence in Flint.”
With Flint Sprint well underway, the Chamber is also focused on supporting Mayor Karen Weaver’s call for the creation of 1,000 new jobs. Almost 2,000 positions have been committed, but fewer than 500 are new, Wilkinson says.
Flint Sprint gave special consideration to addressing the needs of low-income communities, including the north end, and residents of color, he adds. Through efforts like Flint Sprint and the Moving Flint Forward Leadership Conference executives and other recent visitors to the city have been enlightened.
“They get an extremely different picture of what Flint is and what it has to offer,” he says.
Wilkinson views innovative efforts and corporate investments as fertilizer to the community’s economic soil.
“It’s these types of ideas people are using to move Flint forward,” he says.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce visit flintandgenesee.org.
Photos by Paul Engstrom