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Business and Education Leaders: College Access Programs Are Launchpad for Region’s Economic Prosperity

Continued progress on raising educational attainment levels and driving economic development in the region requires enhanced investment in and support for quality higher education access programs. That was a key message outlined by David Dodson during a keynote address at the Chamber’s Talent Outlook: Detroit Drives Degrees breakfast in March.

The event brought nearly 200 attendees together to hear from leaders from the higher education, business, government, nonprofit and philanthropic sectors on what is needed to maintain Southeast Michigan’s economic momentum.

Praising the work of the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Detroit Drives Degrees, an initiative under Forward Detroit, Dodson challenged the business community in attendance to focus on creating bigger and better launching pad programs in Detroit that encourage more young people to get a postsecondary education. The payoff, Dodson said, will be more graduates choosing to remain in the state, and a robust talent pipeline that will put Michigan at the top of the list among national and international investors.

Drawing from his personal journey, Dodson shared how mobility outcomes can drastically change with a postsecondary credential. His philosophy centered around the belief that a person’s socioeconomic status early in life should not determine where they end up later and education makes all the difference.

The pathway to upward economic mobility is a three-step process, according to Dodson. First, one must complete foundational education. Secondly, obtain a postsecondary credential. Lastly, enter and advance in the workplace. Educational experience, a support network, work exposure, work experience, professional development and a professional network are all building blocks that must be developed and cultivated to achieve success.

The event also featured a panel that shared insight on how to strengthen the Detroit region’s homegrown talent pipeline (pictured). Dodson was joined by Amber Arellano, executive director of The Education Trust-Midwest; William Huffaker, global director of talent acquisition for General Motors Co.; and moderated by Brandy Johnson, executive director of the Michigan College Access Network.

The discussion centered on the concept that talent, not capital, is Detroit’s most important asset.

“Detroit children are at the bottom of student achievement,” Arellano said. “A Boston fourth-grade student, educationally, is three years ahead of that of a Detroit student. The schools can’t do it alone. We all need to become advocates, pushing for urgency, excellence and equity.”

“The talent pipeline picture really isn’t pretty,” Huffaker added. “At General Motors, we hire someone with a STEM background every 26 seconds. Our community has changed so much over the last five years than in the last 50 years. As a community, we need to not only consume talent, but produce talent.”

Huffaker also suggested the creation of a more robust mentor program. “Everyone knows that they should have a mentor, but not everyone knows how to use a mentor,” he said.

For more information on Detroit Drives Degrees, contact Greg Handel, vice president of education and talent, at

For more information on Forward Detroit, contact Marnita Hamilton at or 313.596.0310. To view a full list of investors and past Investor Exclusive content, visit our Investor Resources page.