‘An era of possibility’
By SUE SUCHYTA
DEARBORN – Mayor Abdullah Hammoud and Google Public Sector CEO Karen Dahut teamed up to discuss the impact of the city and company’s upcoming partnership Feb. 22 at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.
The impending ice storm prevented Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist from joining them.
Hammoud said the city’s partnership with Google will allow it to transform how the city works, ushering in “an era of possibility,” and whereas now the city is essentially a brick and mortar 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. operation, the introduction of new technology will allow the city to interact with residents and business people on a 24/7 basis.
He said the technological leap forward will allow more documents to be bilingual, and the city’s website redesign and modification will make it easier for everyone to access information.
Hammoud said there is no limit to the applications which the city can use to improve life for those who live and work in the city.
“We can track fugitive dust, track the potholes across the city, determine the tree canopy coverage out there,” he said.
Hammoud said the relationship first developed when someone said that Google had the capability to do traffic studies.
“The next question we asked was, ‘What more can you do?’ and they provided us with solutions that they can offer,” he said. “Then, we challenged their team and we asked them, ‘Can you tackle this issue?’ and the answer came back, ‘Yes, we can.’”
Hammoud said he is excited for what the future holds during the next two-year transformation.
“I think it is going to provide us with an opportunity to measurably demonstrate that we have improved quality of life for residents in every corner of the city,” he said.
Dahut said that “data is the new oil.”
“What you can do with data is just extraordinary,” she said. “At Google we have this phrase: ‘Challenge the impossible.’ The idea was to make the world’s data not just useable, but accessible to the world’s citizens, but also to make a difference in the lives of those citizens.”
Hammoud said that in addition to helping residents, data can be used to empower employees.
“Traditionally, we have software that our employees have to morph themselves around to try to get something done,” he said. “For the first time, we are going to build software around the capabilities of our employees.”
Hammoud said the biggest policy shift is the “cultural mindset of the possible.”
“With this partnership, we no longer are limited by a technology that we house within the walls of our city,” he said. “The question we have to ask ourselves is what do we want to accomplish now, and then set out and actually embark on that mission, and I think, with this partnership, I have been posing question after question to your team, and they have yet to say ‘no.’”
Hammoud said the city will become “a playground of innovation” as a result of the partnership.
Dahut said she visited ACCESS with Hammoud earlier in the day, and she was impressed by their ability to address end-to-end services.
She said she was also pleased with their mission to pair mental health services with law enforcement personnel.
Dahut said Google will work with ACCESS, which will provide training for the city’s constituency who will be using the new online tools.
Hammoud said that when one talks about economic mobility you have to be ready to provide certification or training to a population that is eager to achieve upward mobility.
“With the partnership with ACCESS and the Dearborn Public Schools, we are going to be rolling out Google grow certificates, where Google will help sponsor educating and training people of the city of Dearborn in order to get those high-paying jobs currently in the market,” he said.
Dahut said she and Hammoud talked about the innovation culture and entrepreneurship in the city.
“This is an amazing American story,” she said. “It’s this great story of American innovation and American culture and immigration and entrepreneurship.”
Dahut said Google’s challenge will be to help drive the city’s entrepreneurship and its innovation culture.
“This great American spirit that you have here, this spirit of innovation, can continue to grow and flourish, maybe across the state,” she said.
Hammoud said that Dearborn is known for not only being the home of innovation and the Ford Motor Co. but for being a capital of immigration.
“I think right now when you think about innovation and entrepreneurship and how our company comes to assist, we are typically the bureaucracy that stops you as you are moving forward,” he said. “We are the red tape. You need a permit, you need an application, and all of ours is done by paper, and none is done online, and we add months to the process that you need to actually open up your place of business.”
Hammoud said the new partnership with Google will provide tools for the city’s business liaisons to use to help businesses open and then to succeed.
He said the city has secured a grant of nearly $1.5 million, with the help of U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, to launch a female-led entrepreneurship lab.
“We know that with Google there are partnership opportunities to uplift and really jumpstart these future startup companies right here in the city of Dearborn,” he said.
Hammoud said the presence of women in leadership roles is a strong metric of success.
Hammoud, who has a 14-month-old daughter, said he hope the city where she grows up will allow her to dream of the possibilities open to her.
“That’s what I want for my daughter – for her to just dream of the possibility and for her to achieve it because all the tools she would need are equipped with her because of her upbringing in the city of Dearborn, and that’s what we call the Dearborn advantage,” he said.
Dahut said that in addition to transformation, empowerment combined with technology is an enabler.
Hammoud said those in attendance were brought together to partner with the city on the journey to imagine what the city can become.
“Dearborn has a history of betting on itself,” he said. “When the recession hit in ’08, ’09, when COVID hit, our businesses stayed afloat because we as the residents of Dearborn take pride in our businesses, so that is what we want from everybody in this audience.”
Hammoud said they are excited to share in the success and to share the transformation that will happen in Dearborn.
Dahut said the process develops from three pillars: opportunity, community and education.
Hammoud said Dearborn can also serve as an example for other Michigan cities.
“We have the third largest school district, we are the home to the only K-to-14 school system in the state of Michigan, and while the country has been debating free community college, we have been doing it for decades,” he said. “I think that what we have an opportunity to do, and folks are working on it now, is to capitalize on that moment, bringing all the pieces together.”
Hammoud said the city does not have the luxury of failure with this partnership.
Dahut said a great partnership starts with trust and friendship.
“Being honest with each other about expectation, about failures is really important,” she said. “Secondly, our technology can do anything, but that is not why you brought us in here. You brought us in here to help solve pain points and problems and what we should be doing for you is not just anything, but unique solutions that help you address the problems or challenges that you see your citizens having and empowering those citizens in new and different ways.”
Dahut said if Google and the city focus on the outcome together, the partnership will be “hugely successful.”
“At the end of the day, the biggest sign of success is that you don’t even realize that Google is powering a lot of the transformation and change that you are enabling,” she said.
Hammoud said his goal is for people to see Dearborn as the place they want to be.
“I want a hopeful Dearborn, a powerful Dearborn and I want it to be recognized for its uniqueness,” he said. “We are a place that is diverse and beautiful, and we are beautiful because we are diverse.”
Hammoud said if the city stays true to who they are, to a place of innovation, welcoming to immigrants, there is no challenge the city cannot overcome.
“I strongly believe that the city of Dearborn has set the precedent as how you operate as a city government that empowers its people, that keeps pace with its people, and no longer becomes that barrier, but becomes that catalyst in transforming people’s lives.”