The Michigan economic and business community is mourning the loss of a titan in the industry.
Flint native Michael A. Finney, who died at 65 years old in Florida over the weekend, is described by many as an “intellectual” and so much more.
The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) team posted recently about mourning the loss of their friend and former organizational leader.
“(He was) one of the most passionate, charismatic and committed leaders in the world of economic development,” the MEDC noted. “As a proud Michigan native, Mike served this state with distinction for many years, three of which were spent pursuing his passion for building a brighter future for Michigan while at the helm of MEDC.
“Our organization – and all of Michigan – are no doubt better off today because of Mike’s tremendous service, care, and commitment to making sure our work to create upward mobility was felt by every resident throughout our state.”
The Detroit News reported that Finney, president, and CEO of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, which is a nonprofit public-private economic development organization in Florida, passed away after a heart attack on Sunday, per confirmation from friend and business associate Eric Knowles, CEO of the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce.
“From everything I knew he was in good health,” said Knowles in the article. “He had just returned from a week-long business trip to Israel. He had made a quick impact here in just a short time.”
MEDC CEO Quinten Messer posted a statement about Finney’s skills and talent.
“Mike Finney was a one-of-a-kind leader with a passion for Michigan who inspired all those around him to push the boundaries of what was possible,” Messer noted. “The legacy and impact that Mike leaves on the world of economic development – and particularly MEDC – are unmatched. Mike was a role model and mentor whose grace, thoughtfulness, and authenticity provided me with a high standard for which to aim daily. A life well lived and one who will not be forgotten.”
Detroit businessman and philanthropist Dr. William F. Pickard told the Michigan Chronicle that as a kid growing up in Flint he hung out with Finney’s brothers but didn’t know him until later down the road.
Pickard said that Finney was an “unbelievable intellectual” who also understood the streets.
“That was an unusual gift,” Pickard said adding that one of his fondest memories of Finney was when he would come to Pickard’s class at the University of Michigan on entrepreneurship and shared with his students’ real-life experiences. “He was a very gifted guy.”
Finney moved to Florida in 2017 to bring viable economic opportunities, jobs, and investment to the Miami-Dade area, The Detroit News reported.
“Michael Finney was an eternal optimist. He spent his career helping communities grow, strengthening their economies, and creating pathways to prosperity for residents believing at his core that everyone deserved the chance to succeed,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava in a statement The Detroit News published.
In Detroit through the MEDC especially, Finney wasn’t a stranger to rolling up his sleeves and getting to work and making Detroit a center for economic and cultural renewal, especially while creating an environment where the community thrives and benefits from the process.
Even while on the heels of the tail end of the city’s bankruptcy – the largest municipal restructuring of debt in U.S. history – Finney had a vision and hope for Detroit to rise and become highly attractive to investors around the world.
According to the New Economy Initiative, during his tenure at the MEDC, the organization developed Pure Michigan Business Connect (PMBC), one of the most innovative economic development programs in the country. PMBC provides comprehensive business development, capital access, talent enhancement, and marketing assistance to Michigan-based companies. PMBC is quickly becoming a national model for economic development, according to the website.
Prior to taking the helm at MEDC, Finney served as president and CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK (SPARK), a public-private partnership whose mission is to advance innovation-based economic development in the greater Ann Arbor region.
He also served as President and CEO of Greater Rochester Enterprise, Rochester, New York; Vice President, Emerging Business Sectors, MEDC; Senior Vice President and General Manager, Thomson Saginaw; and, Assistant City Manager, Saginaw.
Pickard said that there were many firsts in Finney’s career as a brilliant Black man who consistently brought companies to Michigan and later Miami.
“It is a big loss – this brother was gifted and very, very capable,” he said. “He never stopped learning; he never stopped caring. He went all the way to the top. It’s not your zip code it’s your vision and your desire and your zeal, and putting the work in, and he did it. He was one of the good ones.”