On Wednesday, September 12, passionate members of the Detroit and surrounding community came together at the Michigan State University Detroit Center to discuss the important role that business plays in building a sustainable community. The almost sold-out room was the perfect environment for networking and dialogue spanning many different industries and perspectives.

Setting the tone for the day, Mike Shesterkin, President of the Southeast Michigan Sustainable Business Forum, opened the dialogue by comparing the current status of the business environment to the 1999 legendary movie, The Matrix. “We are living in a transitional period in which the business community is undergoing a fundamental shift,” Shesterkin said.

An engaging and enthusiastic panel discussion followed with four high-profile and highly qualified panelists Joel Howrani Heeres, Director of Sustainability for the City of Detroit; Dakota Korth, Department Executive, Wayne County Economic Development Corporation; Kimle Nailer, President, Nail Rite; and Kelly Wilson, SE Michigan Local Food Coordinator, Taste the Local Difference.

The unique blend from the four panelists brought different perspectives, experiences, and ideas that contributed to a robust and thought-provoking conversation – from small start-ups to large corporations, from local experiences to national and international initiatives, and from the private sector to the public sector.

“At the core of triple bottom line is respect for people and respect for community,” said Joel Howrani Heeres, as he shared his love and passion for engaging business with government to create a better tomorrow for everyone.

Dakota Korth, recalling experiences from his corporate days working in Washington DC, commented that “When everyone in the company believes in sustainability, there will be no need for a corporate sustainability director.”

Kimle Nailer shared her heart for her beloved community of Detroit. Seeing Detroit through her eyes – the beauty of the people, the possibilities and opportunities that she can see as Detroit rebuilds – awakened hopeful ideas in everyone for the Detroit that we all want to see.

And Kelly Wilson spoke about the challenges that small start-ups face when trying to balance profit with social impact. She shared many personal stories about her business ventures and how others can learn from her mistakes and best practices.

Following the panel discussion, participants had the rare opportunity for personal networking with these highly sought-after panelists before breaking out into a charrette for more in-depth small group discussions to explore the different perspectives related to the community, commerce, and sustainable business practices.