Volunteerism bolsters local economy
This story originally appeared in The Green Sheet Issue 121101 on November 12, 2012.
Like many business leaders, Marc Gardner, President and Chief Executive Officer of North American Bancard, considers charitable giving an integral part of his life. A similar philosophy applies to NAB's stated philanthropic mission of "fulfilling the American dream."
Today, NAB employees actively participate in a variety of community fundraisers, volunteer their time at local food banks and donate critical supplies to charitable causes. Recent recipients include the American Red Cross, Operation KidEquip School Supply Drive and Gleaners Food Bank, among others.
Headquartered in a suburb of Detroit, an area especially hard hit by the recession, NAB has a longstanding commitment to the Toys for Tots campaign, donating hundreds of gifts to area children each year. And charitable fundraising walks for combatting specific types of cancer are not uncommon for this growing ISO either.
Regardless of the charity, Gardner believes the cause must be worthwhile for the entire organization to accomplish a unified goal. "It makes it a lot easier to donate your time or money if you're really engaged and passionate about the cause," he said. "It takes initiative from an entire corporate holistic team approach."
Bringing dollars home
With a background in economics, Gardner understands the challenges facing metropolitan areas seeking to regain financial stability in the post-recession era. "In Detroit, there is close to 20 percent unemployment," he said. "So, while the nation faces just over 8 percent unemployment, unemployment in the greater metropolitan Detroit area is in excess of double that."
Not one to take such matters lightly, Gardner relocated NAB to its current 105,000 square-foot facility in 2009 after the Michigan Economic Development Corp. recommended and gained approval by the Michigan Economic Growth Authority to extend a $21.5 million in state tax credit over 12 years to NAB for business expansion within the state.
NAB projected it would create 1,500 jobs internally and 399 jobs outside the facility during that 12-year period. But doing so would require qualified talent. "Being in Detroit, there's a lack of opportunity within the job base," Gardner said. "We were seeking to hire 10 to 20 mobile application engineers, and we couldn't find any in Michigan. They were all in other parts of the United States."
He noted that while Michigan possesses an excellent university system, the state retains very few of its recent graduates, especially those with technical degrees. "One of the biggest issues facing Michigan is what we call 'brain drain,'" he said. Indeed, well organized recruitment programs by large out-of-state companies like Google Inc. and Facebook make it difficult for Michigan-based companies to compete for local talent.
Going back to school
After doing a bit of research, Gardner discovered the University of Michigan had an educational track and specialty in mobile application engineering. He approached the university about his company's hiring initiatives and was recruited to donate personal time as a guest professor twice each semester. "What was really rewarding to me is they wanted my time more so than they wanted our charitable giving from an economic standpoint," Gardner stated.
"Candidly, I hadn't been in a classroom in many moons, and it was really a rewarding experience," he said. "From there we started different initiatives within the graduate and undergraduate school." For example, to compete with larger companies, NAB began offering paid summer internships, which include housing and transportation, Gardner said.
The company also sponsors the university's 48-Hour Mobile Applications Hackathon. With each new initiative Gardner hopes to benefit the local economy in some way, whether donating time or resources, or providing well-paying jobs to recent graduates.