Galvanized by crisis, community leaders embark on a mission to bring Genesee County back to its roots as a hub for innovation.
The story of Diplomat Pharmacy Inc. is in many ways the story of Flint, Michigan. Established as a corner drugstore half a century ago, Diplomat today is a thriving $4.4-billion company that saves thousands of lives every year through its healthcare management leadership in the complex illness and oncology sector. At the heart of this Flint-based life-science firm, however, is a commitment to community. “This community has always been about people standing up for each other and sticking together,” says Phil Hagerman, CEO and chairman of the board for Diplomat.
“The water crisis showed us that we as a community are much more than the water crisis. There is a genuine warmth that is borne of that Midwest mentality. I am passionate about what we do, and I am excited about Flint’s future.” Hagerman and his firm are putting their money where their mouth is. Diplomat acquired 550,000 sq. ft. of the old GM Great Lakes Technology Center in 2009 and committed to hiring 1,000 workers locally.
Eight years later, Diplomat has exceeded that goal and hired 1,500 employees to work in Flint. And Diplomat is not done expanding, says Hagerman.
“In 2005, we were a $30-million-a-year business. Today, we are a $4.4-billion business,” Hagerman notes. “When we made the decision to invest in Michigan after considering offers to place call centers in Texas and California, we decided to locate 80 to 90 percent of our jobs in Genesee County.”
The ability to hire talent in Flint makes it easy for Diplomat to grow, the CEO says. “We sit at the crossroads of Interstates 75 and 69. Many employees live 50 to 60 miles away and drive here in about an hour,” he adds. “We draw workers from Midland, Lansing, Port Huron and Detroit. Plus, the location assets are second to none. The beauty of this community in Southeast Michigan is unparalleled. We have the infrastructure for arts and culture that a city of a million people would have. We have spectacular lakes, an art museum, great entertainment, and all with a cost of living that is very balanced.” Investing in Infrastructure
The infrastructure in a county of 418,408 people is getting better thanks to a unique partnership that is pumping an additional $25 million into economic development. FlintNOW, Huntington Bank and Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores have teamed up to fund programs to support homeowners, businesses and entrepreneurs in Flint and Genesee County.
“We announced $20 million in SBA 7(a) lending,” says David Lochner, president of Huntington’s East Michigan Region. “We are the largest 7(a) lender in Michigan and the second largest originator of 7(a) loans in the country. That allows us to expand our risk appetite incrementally and provide more solutions to more customers. The intellectual capital that we can bring to any venture is important. We have a strong belief that if we do the right things for the community, it leads to more business opportunity for us.” Huntington demonstrated its own commitment to Flint recently by investing $5 million into renovating its downtown campus and adding 60 employees.
Lochner says that business executives from elsewhere in the country are surprised when they visit Flint. “The richness and talent and commitment of key stakeholders in this community make me optimistic about Flint’s future,” he says. “Harnessing industry talent is the legacy of Flint. You can see that happening everywhere around here now.” Michigan’s ‘Best-Kept Secret’
Perhaps nowhere is that more obvious than at Kettering University, the 2,500-student private school that ranks among the nation’s best at educating engineers. “We are the best-kept secret in Michigan,” says Dr. Robert K. McMahan Jr., president of Kettering University. “When visitors come here and see the quality of our students and programs, they are very impressed. No one has ever seen students this engaged anywhere else. We and our students interact with businesses in the community on businesses’ terms. It is part of our founding mission. We have active relationships with over 600 global companies.”
Recognized annually as the best STEM higher-education institution in the country, Kettering casts its influence far and wide. “There is probably not a C-suite in the Fortune 50 where we do not have at least one person,” McMahan says. “The CEO of GM is an alum. The founder of Benchmark Capital is an alum. The founder of biomedical giant Zimmer in Indiana is an alum. The head of the Watson Group at IBM is an alum. The CFO of Walmart is an alum. The head of logistics for FedEx is an alum. We have a 100-year history of developing leaders across all industries. That is what we do.”
When asked what he tells executives from companies outside of Michigan, McMahan’s says, “I tell them that we have a community that has a tremendous infrastructure. At the turn of the last century, Flint was the Silicon Valley of the United States. For pipelining talent, this area is phenomenal. When you look at the dramatic rebirth taking place in this community, you will find a compelling reason to locate your business here.”
Echoing the words of Diplomat CEO Hagerman, McMahan notes that “this community is filled with people who are passionate about Flint. They are investing and building in this community. We are adding and creating opportunities here. Flint is a true success story.”
This Investment Profile was prepared under the auspices of the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce. For more information, contact Janice Karcher at 810-600-1429 or by email at jkarcher@ flintandgenesee.org.