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Feature: Prima Civitas Foundation

  • Author:
    Robert Bao
  • Published:
    Spring 2012

MSU’s vision created one of the nation’s most unique economic development solutions— an organization with the cryptic name of “Prima Civitas Foundation.”

In recent years, one of MSU’s most important emerging missions is to help the state of Michigan in its economic recovery. It’s no secret that the state economy has taken a major hit during the prolonged national recession. In a visionary move by President Lou Anna K. Simon, MSU founded a nonprofit organization in 2005 to quickly marshal university resources toward this goal.

The organization—christened Prima Civitas (Latin for “First State” or “First Nation”) Foundation (PCF)—is now beginning to hum.

“President Simon envisioned a nimble and unique economic development enterprise that could quickly and effectively address economic issues critical to Michigan,” says Steve Webster, CEO of the Primas Civitas Foundation. “Call it a world-grant or 21st-century land-grant approach. By any description, it’s a unique organization that is paying dividends to Michigan.”

Indeed, one project launched by PCF has the potential to pay huge dividends.
It involves creating a consortium of Michigan companies that would participate in building some 100,000 homes in Iraq. this high-impact project is estimated to exceed $8 billion, with the housing component alone exceeding $5.5 billion. that could translate into a direct return to Michigan of some $1.5 billion in goods and services. It is one of many initiatives that PCF is spearheading.

“this is really one of the most creative responses by a state university anywhere,” says Webster. “Not enough has been said about the vision and sheer boldness of this move.”

Although independent from the university, PCF operates well within the MSU knowledge orbit. PCF receives funding from various sources, including the MSU Foundation and the C.S. Mott Foundation.

Webster, ’75 (James Madison), MBA ’78, served MSU 24 years, rising to vice president for Governmental A airs. Before that, he worked 14 years in state government, rising to associate director of the House Fiscal Agency. His more than three decades in the world of public policy has given him the contacts and experience to lead PCF. Webster believes that fundamental, transformational measures are needed to get Michigan leading again in the global economy. He’s been known to say, “When the plane is heading into the ground, a trimming of the rudders simply moves the crash site.”

Joining Webster is a full-time staff that includes four MSU alumni and two current students. PCF also engages student interns and externs across multiple disciplines and colleges, including the MSU College of Law, James Madison College, Eli Broad College of Business, and the Colleges of Social Science and Arts and Letters. David Hollister, ’64, ’69, longtime state legislator, former Lansing mayor and founding PCF president and CEO, now serves as PCF’s senior vice president of strategic initiatives.

Hollister remembers how his involvement with PCF came about. “While attending one of the Boldness by Design forums, President Simon asked if I would consider becoming PCF’s president and CEO,” he recalls. “At the time I was director of Michigan’s Dept. of Labor and Economic Growth with a staff of 4,200 and a budget of $1.9 billion, but I quickly agreed because her vision was so clear, her commitment so solid, and the potential of engaging university assets and resources so powerful that I would not pass up the opportunity.

“I can say unequivocally that PCF has furthered the goal of helping MSU become a world-grant university and significantly and positively impacted the economic future of Michigan.”

Webster notes that PCF has adopted an innovative strategy for handling projects. “We’re unique in many ways,” says Webster. “the simple, streamlined foci of our business model is one way in which we are different from other organizations across the United States.”

Webster explains that PCF’s model for each project is to  first develop an intermediary organization of “stakeholders.”  is group would then determine and deliver economic development solutions for Michigan companies and communities, and help “aggregate and mobilize knowledge economy assets” anchored by MSU.

“What is essential to this model are the extraordinary global assets of Michigan State University,” says Webster. “We are building on over 60 years of pioneering and sophisticated international programming. MSU’s global knowledge assets, including nearly 500,000 living alumni, provide international linkages that o er strong development for Michigan. PCF helps realize the value of these assets by joining strategic partners and developing action plans that translate this value into jobs and income in Michigan.”

All of that sounds good in theory. So are there any specific examples of this work? The answer is that there are many examples:

Michigan-Based International Development

PCF initiated big-impact, jobs-generating projects in 2011 including the development of the Great Lakes International Trade and Transportation Hub (GLITTH). An estimated 100,000-plus jobs can be created in Michigan via the implementation of proposals developed by GLITTH.Canadian and U.S. officials as well as leaders from Nova Scotia quebec, Ontario, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, teamed up with MSU and Canadian university partners to develop an action plan for the build-out of the transportation, distribution and logistics (TDL) sector along the trade corridors initiating at the Port of Halifax and terminating in the U.S.

In a related TDL project, PCF and strategic partners created an innovative region-building effort joining over 30 local communities and four Michigan counties stretching from Sarnia, Ontario, west through Shiawassee County (East of Lansing).The goal is to create a logistics hub and industry sector along the I-69 and I-75 highway and rail freight corridors. this ‘sub-hub’ will support the GLITTH efforts and has the potential to become the largest regional development corporation of its type in Michigan in over 30 years. this strategic job creating hub is known as Next Michigan Development Corporation, and it will speed the recovery of the region hit The hardest nationally by job-loss in the last 20 years.

“The War for Talent”

Many of Michigan’s leading industry sectors are currently experiencing rapid growth while also trying to respond to cascading talent gaps. In Michigan, there are approximately 500,000 unemployed workers and 70,000 unfilled positions at any given time; yet too often skilled workers and employers struggle to make connections.  these employment gaps feed the “War for Talent” where companies and businesses vie for a skilled and tech-savvy workforce to compete and prosper.

In 2011, PCF collaborated with strategic partners to roll out a Talent Action Plan and have subsequently created a Talent Team from these partnerships.

“The Prima Civitas Foundation Will continue to grow jobs and income in Michigan via large-scale global competition.And this is happening at precisely the time it is most needed.”

The focus is clear: assist companies in winning the “War for Talent” by customizing talent recruitment and training programs to meet the specific needs of a company or community. The Talent Team will proactively construct a talent ‘pipeline’ to  ll long-term needs for sustainable employment growth.

Developing Youth Entrepreneurs

2011 also saw PCF continue it’s partnership with the C.S. Mott Foundation via the promotion of entrepreneurship to two underserved—yet critically important—groups, K-12 and college students.Unlocking the creative potential of students has lead to small business creation in Michigan and the development of the ‘mindset’ that one can “create” a career.

Restoring Flint, Michigan

Central to PCF programming is a core commitment to the Flint/Genesee County region of Michigan. PCF is partnering with the Genesee Regional Chamber of Commerce, MSU, local government leaders and many other enterprises like the Flint Area Reinvestment Office to speed the return of this proud, currently struggling economic region.  is region like no other in the United States has suffered the effects of global competition and economic dislocation for over a generation.PCF has created and partnered with many regional organizations to bring knowledge economy assets to assist in this region’s economic turnaround.

Iraq Housing Development

All PCF initiatives have paved the way for the Michigan Iraq Consortium for Housing Development (MICH Development).  the MICH Development project has the potential to produce extraordinary benefits for Michigan companies, and best illustrates the unique PCF business model in action.

The massive Project involves building a “neighborhood” of 100,000 homes—with the necessary urban infrastructure—at a location on the outskirts of Baghdad. As proposed, this cityscaled project is estimated to exceed $8 billion, with the housing component alone exceeding $5.5 billion. An estimated $1.5 billion would return To Michigan in the form of exported goods and services from Michigan based companies. At the center of this PCF project is Sami Al-Araji, ’67, PhD ’73, chair of the National Investment Commission (NIC) of the Republic of Iraq. Al-Araji is charged with rebuilding his country’s infrastructure, including housing, via foreign investment.In 2008 and again in 2010 Al-Araji visited MSU and extended an invitation to Michigan-based businesses to submit proposals to develop housing for middle class families in Iraq.

Following its business model, PCF has created an intermediary group of stakeholders, including Michigan businesses and economic development partners like the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and submitted an urban development plan to the NIC. A Memorandum Of Understanding was signed with Al-Araji and the NIC in November 2011, after a week of reviews and negotiations in Baghdad.

This big-impact project builds upon “knowledge assets” developed by MSU well over 40 years ago.In innovative ways, the project is teaming Michigan companies, generating export revenues and jobs in Michigan, and in true land-grant fashion, working to stabilize the Republic of Iraq by supplying new housing to a country that has had no significant investment in housing construction for over 30 years.

The MICH Development Project will rely predominantly on a supply chain of Michigan-based companies, and of course significant MSU assets found locally and globally. Perhaps as important, the MICH Development project follows a business model that PCF can replicate in other countries.

“The forward thinking and groundbreaking vision of President Simon when creating the Prima Civitas Foundation will continue to grow jobs and income in Michigan via large-scale global competition,” sums up Webster. “And this is happening at precisely the time it is most needed.”

To learn more about the MICH Development project, or any of the programs of the Prima Civitas Foundation, visit Follow PCF on Twitter and friend them on Facebook (search “PrimaCivitas”).