By Elizabeth Shaw
Meet Harvey Hollins III, director of the newly created Michigan Office of Urban and Metropolitan Initiatives. Hollins will be a principal adviser to Governor Snyder, charged with the complex task of revitalizing the economies of Michigan’s major urban centers.
“Michigan’s cities are Michigan’s future,” declared Governor Snyder. “Their diversity and vitality have always fueled our state’s greatness. But the issues facing our urban centers are often unique and complex. This initiative will primarily focus on their economic development needs such as business attraction, entrepreneurial startups, and public transit. That’s why I selected Harvey Hollins as our point man on this initiative. Harvey’s understanding of urban core needs, coupled with his belief in the power of partnerships and his proven ability to work with a broad range of stakeholders, will help our cities become centers where people want to live, work, and prosper.”
Harvey Hollins III
Hollins served as Wayne State University’s (WSU) Vice President for Government and Community Affairs for seven years. Before joining WSU, he was the Michigan Government Affairs Representative for the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). Previously, he served as a fiscal analyst for the Michigan House of Representatives. Hollins is a member of various boards and committees related to urban planning, education, and economic development. He holds a BA from Kalamazoo College and a master of public policy from the University of Michigan.
So what does Hollins say he can do for Michigan’s cities? His mission, he explains, is simply to facilitate conversations that produce solutions to make it easier for the cities themselves to do what needs to be done. “The solutions exist within the cities themselves,” said Hollins. “What we’re trying to do is to create a mechanism for these solutions to bubble up and coalesce statewide. There are cross-cutting issues that exist in all these cities that have not been articulated in a collaborative manner.”
From his central base in Detroit, Hollins will oversee a hand-picked crew of associate directors in strategically placed satellite offices in Kalamazoo, Flint, and Grand Rapids, with a possible fourth to focus on the Detroit area. Each of those officials—two had been named as of this writing—will have strong personal and professional ties to their respective areas.
“All the interviews for the associate directors were done in panel form with the leadership in those communities. I want the communities to feel this is a good fit, not that the state is coming in and saying this is who you’ll work with,” said Hollins. “With each one, we’ve asked what they know and understand about the challenges and assets of the area they’ll be working in. Can someone there say ‘I know this person’? Have they geared themselves to bring value to the table when they get there?”
The original staffing plan did not include an associate director for Detroit but that’s likely to change, Hollins said. “My staff is not necessarily done. Detroit is the heavy lift and is taking a lot of time since it’s obviously our biggest city, and all the cities around Detroit have their own challenges, too. So, we may need another person who can touch base with them and directly report to me.”
On April 12, more than 20 mayors and local officials from cities across Michigan met at the League’s Capital Office as part of the Governor’s Office of Urban and Metropolitan Initiatives. Attendees included Battle Creek City Manager Ken Tsuchiyama, Bay City Mayor Christopher Shannon, Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly Jr., Detroit Director of Government Relations Kizzi Montgomery, Flint Mayor Dayne Walling, Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell, Hamtramck Mayor and League Board President Karen Majewski, Highland Park Mayor DeAndre Windom, Jackson Mayor Martin Griffin, Kalamazoo City Manager Ken Collard, Kalamazoo Vice Mayor Hannah McKinney, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, Muskegon City Manager Bryon Mazade, Royal Oak City Manager Donald Johnson, Saginaw Mayor Greg Branch, Saginaw City Manager Darnell Earley, and Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence. Harvey Hollins, director of the new inititiative, noted that this was the second in a series of meetings with mayors and local officials. He intends to get on the road and have regional conversations with mayors from around the state.
Governor Snyder talks with Michigan mayors at the League’s Lansing office in April.
Flint Mayor Dayne Walling is optimistic about what the new office could mean for his city, which has struggled to reinvent itself in the post-Buick City age. “The initiative is focused on the right issue: jobs,” said Walling. “It can bring together strategies for economic development, transportation, housing, education, and public safety in a way that is effective.”
“Collaboration” is the keystone for how the new initiative will work, with Hollins’ staff acting as catalysts and facilitators for the best practices and innovative strategies developed in each urban center. “In too many parts of the state, neighboring cities don’t operate with a regional mindset. Except for the rare meeting, these conversations are few and far between,” said Hollins. “We’re trying to create a table where they can sit down together.”
Walling agreed. “Michigan has the right assets for a robust economy in this global world but we have been divided city versus county and eastside versus westside,” said Walling. “This new initiative can bring together everyone who wants to see Michigan succeed.”
Rosebrook holds a BA from the University of Chicago and a master of public administration from Harvard. Originally from Greenville, MI, she currently resides in East Grand Rapids. As Assistant Ottawa County Administrator, she increased local officials’, employees’, and residents’ access to services and information through technology and creative communication strategies. While with Kent County, she coordinated land acquisition and environmental activities for the award-winning Millennium Park. As a survey research analyst, she created and implemented a vocational rehabilitation program for individuals with mental illness, developmental disabilities, and welfare work requirements.
Larkin was born in Flint and graduated from Flint Northern High School. He received his BA from Morehouse College, and his master of science in planning from Florida State University. While at the Genesee County Land Bank, Larkin coordinated a vacant land management program of 1,500+ properties. He also worked on the community-city partnership ‘Keep Genesee County Beautiful.’ He served on the advisory committee to the Crim Fitness Foundation’s Healthy Kids Healthy Communities Initiative and the North Flint Redevelopment Corporations Board of Directors.
The office will also provide a direct line of communication between local leaders and state policy makers. “One objective is to pull together stakeholder groups in these cities that connect directly to the governor’s office so we can have real dialogue, and find solutions that begin to create policies that move cities in a better direction,” said Hollins. “We want to empower them to be better advocates of their own issues but also to have that conduit to the governor’s office.”
The intent is to create a lasting process for long-term solutions, Hollins said. “When the administration eventually changes and there’s change in the legislative body, any top-down-driven initiative will get changed too. If we can grow this thing organically from the ground up, we can establish a lasting mechanism for direct access to a governor,” he said. “The League’s role is critical in this, too. It has a history of working with the municipalities. They know the players on the ground.”
Battle Creek Mayor Susan Baldwin said the urban focus is a key strategy for success. “It’s a recognition on the part of the governor that cities are the economic engine of Michigan, that this is where the core of our businesses are, where our population centers are,” said Baldwin. “This initiative is going to help our cities back to greatness.”
Both mayors say they’re confident in Snyder’s choice to fill the job. “Harvey Hollins has the right experience and the attitude to work with leaders on both sides of the aisle and across the state that do not always see it as being in their interest to invest in urban areas and regional development,” said Walling.
“He’s professional and approachable. When he’s listening to you he’s truly listening,” said Baldwin. “I also see him get excited about ideas that cities bring to him. He really engages in the discussion. That’s a key piece to this office: good staff that pays attention.”
So will he succeed in the task ahead? On this particular day, Hollins is gazing out on his hometown from a rooftop in downtown Kalamazoo. And based on the view from here, the future looks bright. “When I was growing up, downtown was pretty much stagnant. But coming back and seeing what’s new…the medical school going in…the cool restaurants…I go downtown and it’s like I’ve never been there…It’s exciting to see this city come back,” he said. “I’m really glad the governor has the vision he has and the boldness to execute the vision to focus on urban centers. That’s the good news: working for a guy who gets it.”