Flint is a city in the U.S. state of Michigan, located along the Flint River, northwest of Detroit. According to the 2010 census, Flint has a population of 102,434, making it the seventh largest city in Michigan.
Flint is the county seat of Genesee County in the Flint/Tri-Cities region of Michigan. Genesee County comprises the entirety of Flint's metropolitan area, the fourth largest metropolitan area in Michigan with a population of 425,790 in 2010.
Flint is best known as the birthplace of General Motors (GM) (and its numerous GM factories), and was the home of the Flint Sit-Down Strike of 1936–37 that played a vital role in the formation of the United Auto Workers. However, since 2007 it has been known for its high crime rates. It has also been in a financial emergency since 2011.
The Saginaw Valley, particularly the vicinity of Flint, is considered by some to be the oldest continually inhabited area of Michigan. Regardless of the validity of this claim, the region was home to several Ojibwa tribes at the start of the 19th century, with a particularly significant community established near present-day Montrose. The Flint River had several convenient fords which became points of contention among rival tribes, as attested by the presence of arrowheads and burial mounds near it.
19th century: lumber and the beginnings of the automobile industry
In 1819, Jacob Smith, a fur trader on cordial terms with both the local Ojibwas and the territorial government, along with his Ojibwe wife founded a trading post in Flint itself. On several occasions, Smith negotiated land exchanges with the Ojibwas on behalf of the U.S. government, and he was highly regarded on both sides. Smith apportioned many of his holdings to his children. As the ideal stopover on the overland route between Detroit and Saginaw, Flint grew into a small but prosperous village, and incorporated in 1855. The 1860 U.S. census indicated that Genesee County had a population of 22,498 of Michigan's 750,000.
In the latter half of the 19th century, Flint became a center of the Michigan lumber industry. Revenue from lumber funded the establishment of a local carriage-making industry. As horse-drawn carriages gave way to the automobiles, Flint then naturally grew into a major player in the nascent auto industry. Buick Motor Company, after a rudimentary start in Detroit, soon moved to Flint. AC Spark Plug (now part of Delphi) originated in Flint. These were followed by several now-defunct automobile marques such as the Dort, Little, Flint, and Mason brands. And Chevrolet's first (and for many years, main) manufacturing facility was also in Flint, although the Chevrolet headquarters were in Detroit. For a brief period, all Chevrolets and Buicks were built in Flint.
Early and mid-20th century: the auto industry takes shape
In 1904, local entrepreneur William C. Durant was brought in to manage Buick, which became the largest manufacturer of automobiles by 1908. In 1908, Durant founded General Motors, filing incorporation papers in New Jersey, with headquarters in Flint. GM moved its headquarters to Detroit in the mid-1920s. Durant lost control of GM twice during his lifetime. On the first occasion, he befriended Louis Chevrolet and founded Chevrolet, which was a runaway success. He used the capital from this success to buy back share control. He later lost decisive control again, permanently. Durant experienced financial ruin in the stock market crash of 1929 and subsequently ran a bowling alley in Flint until the time of his death in 1947.
For the last century, Flint's history has been dominated by both the auto industry and car culture. During the Sit-Down Strike of 1936–1937, the fledgling United Automobile Workers triumphed over General Motors, inaugurating the era of labor unions. The successful mediation of the strike by Governor Frank Murphy, culminating in a one page agreement recognizing the Union, began an era of successful organizing by the UAW. The city was a major contributor of tanks and other war machines during World War II due to its extensive manufacturing facilities. For decades, Flint remained politically significant as a major population center as well as for its importance to the automotive industry.
A freighter named after the city, the SS City of Flint was the first US ship to be captured during the Second World War in October, 1939. The vessel was later sunk in 1943.
The eighth deadliest tornado on record in the United States struck Beecher, just north of Flint, on June 8, 1953, killing 115 people, injuring 844. Known as the "Beecher Tornado", after the North Side community which the tornado devastated. On the next day the same weather system spawned the worst tornado in New England in Worcester, Massachusetts, killing another 94 people.
The city's population peaked in 1960 at almost 200,000, at which time it was the second largest city in the state. The decades of the 1950s and 1960s are seen as the height of Flint's prosperity and influence. They culminated with the establishment of many local institutions, most notably including the Flint Cultural Center. This landmark remains one of the city's chief commercial and artistic draws to this day.
Late 20th century: Deindustrialization and demographic changes
Since the late 1960s through the end of the 20th century, Flint has suffered from disinvestment, deindustrialization, depopulation and urban decay, as well as high rates of crime, unemployment and poverty. Initially, this took the form of "white flight" that afflicted many urban industrialized American towns and cities. Given Flint's role in the automotive industry, this decline was exacerbated by the 1973 oil crisis and subsequent collapse of the U.S. auto industry.
In the 1980s, the rate of deindustrialization accelerated again with local GM employment falling from a 1978 high of 80,000 to under 8,000 by 2010. Only 10% of the manufacturing work force from its height remains in Flint. Many factors have been blamed, including outsourcing, exporting jobs abroad, moving jobs to non-union facilities, unionization, exorbitant overhead, globalization, and more recently, a dramatic decline in General Motors sales. Locally, these rationales are often strictly applied along lines of political orientation, and labor remains a divisive and polarizing issue.
This decline was highlighted in the film Roger & Me by Michael Moore (the title refers to Roger B. Smith, the CEO of General Motors during the 1980s). Also highlighted in Moore's documentary was the failure of city officials to reverse the trends with entertainment options (e.g. the now-demolished AutoWorld) during the 1980s. Moore, a native of Davison (a Flint suburb), revisited Flint in his later movies, including Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11.
First financial emergency: 2002–2004
The first decade of the 21st century opened on the final stages of large-scale General Motors deindustrialization. By 2002, Flint had accrued $30 million in debt.
On March 5, 2002, the city's voters recalled mayor Woodrow Stanley. A few months later, on May 8, the state of Michigan appointed an emergency financial manager, Ed Kurtz. The emergency financial manager displaced the temporary mayor, Darnell Earley, in the city administrator position. The City Council fought the takeover in court.
In August, city voters elected former Mayor James Rutherford to finish the remainder of Stanley's term of office. On September 24, Kurtz commissioned a salary and wage study for top city officials from an outside accounting and consulting firm. The financial manager then installed a new code enforcement program for annual rental inspections and emergency demolitions. On October 8, Kurtz ordered cuts in pay for the mayor (from $107,000 to $24,000) and the City Council members (from $23,000 to $18,000). He also eliminated insurance benefits for most officials. After spending $245,000 fighting the takeover, the City Council ended the lawsuits on October 14. Immediately thereafter on October 16, a new interim financial plan was put in place by the manager. This plan initiated controls on hiring, overnight travel and spending by city employees. On November 12, Kurtz directed the city's retirement board to stop unusual pension benefits, which had decreased some retiree pensions by 3.5%. Kurtz sought the return of overpayments to the pension fund. However, in December, the state attorney general stated that Emergency Financial Managers do not have authority over the retirement system. With contract talks stalled, Kurtz stated that there either need to be cuts or layoffs to union employees. That same month, the city's recreation centers were temporarily closed.
Emergency measures continued in 2003. In May, Kurtz increased water and sewer bills by 11% and shut down operations of the ombudsman's office. In September 2003, a 4% pay cut was agreed to by the city's largest union. In October, Kurtz moved in favor of infrastructure improvements, authorizing $1 million in sewer and road projects. Don Willamson was elected a full-term mayor and sworn in on November 10. In December, city audits reported nearly $14 million in reductions in the city deficit. For the 2003–2004 budget year, estimates decreased that amount to between $6 million and $8 million.
With pressure from Kurtz for large layoffs and replacement of the board on February 17, 2004, the City Retirement Board agreed to four proposals reducing the amount of the city's contribution into the system. On March 24, Kurtz indicated that he would raise the City Council's and the Mayor's pay and in May, Kurtz laid off 10 workers as part of 35 job cuts for the 2004–05 budget. In June 2004, Kurtz reported that the financial emergency was over. Of the nearly 80,000 people that worked for General Motors in Flint during its peak years in the late 1970s, only about 8,000 were left after the most recent 2006 buyouts.
In the last decade, local efforts to counter deindustrialization have centered around diversifying the economy, either by attracting small parts manufacturers with vacant industrial space and tax incentives, or steering the city toward a more commercially driven economy.
Industrially, the vacated Buick City site is currently the United States' largest brownfield. Its accessibility to the Flint River and major rail networks have made it potentially attractive to shipping interests. A local shipping company has considered turning Buick City into a large shipping center. This center could provide 600 jobs and spur many small businesses. In a recent new GM-UAW deal, an agreement was reached to build a new engine plant on a portion of the Buick City site. This plant is expected to provide 800 new jobs.
Commercially, local organizations have attempted to pool their resources in the central business district and to expand and bolster higher education at four local institutions. Examples of their efforts include the following:
Similar to a plan in Detroit, Flint is in the process of tearing down thousands of abandoned homes in order to curb crime and reduce city services to a level where the population can sustain it. As of June 2009, approximately 1100 homes have been demolished in Flint, with one official estimating another 3000 more will have to be torn down.
The Flint City Council on April 26, 2010 voted to join the new Karegnondi Water Authority.
Second financial emergency: 2011–present
On September 30, 2011, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder appointed an eight-member review team to review Flint's financial state with a request to report back in 30 days (half the legal time for a review). On November 8, 2011, Mayor Dayne Walling defeated challenger Darryl Buchanan 8,819 votes (56%) to 6,868 votes (44%). That same day, the Michigan State review panel declared the City of Flint to be in the state of a "local government financial emergency" recommending the state again appoint an Emergency Manager. On November 14, the City Council voted 7 to 2 to not appeal the state review with Mayor Walling concurring the next day. Governor Snyder appointed Michael Brown as the city's Emergency Manager on November 29, effective December 1. On December 2, Brown dismissed a number of top administrators including City Administrator Gregory Eason, Human Resources Director Donna Poplar, Citizen Services Director Rhoda Woods, Green City Coordinator Steve Montle and independent officials including Ombudswoman Brenda Purifoy and Civil Service Commission Director Ed Parker. Pay and benefits from Flint's elected officials were automatically removed. On December 8, the office of Obudsman and the Civil Service Commission were eliminated by Brown.
On January 16, 2012, protestors against the emergency manager law including Flint residents marched near the governor's home. The next day, Brown filed a financial and operating plan with the state as mandated by law. The next month, each ward in the city had a community engagement meeting hosted by Brown. Governor Sydner on March 7 made a statewide public safety message from Flint City Hall that included help for Flint with plans for reopening the Flint lockup and increasing state police patrols in Flint.
On March 20, 2012, days after a lawsuit was filed by labor union AFSCME, and a restraining order was issued against Brown, his appointment was found to be in violation of the Michigan Open Meetings Act and Mayor Walling and the City Council had their powers returned. The state immediately filed an emergency appeal, claiming the financial emergency still existed. On March 26, the appeal was granted, putting Brown back in power. Brown and several unions agreed to new contract terms in April. Brown unveiled his fiscal year 2013 budget on April 23. It included cuts in nearly every department including police and fire, as well as higher taxes.
An Obsolete Property Rehabilitation District was created by Manager Brown in June 2012 for 11 downtown Flint properties. On July 19, the city pension system was transferred to the Municipal Employees Retirement System by the city's retirement board which led to a legal challenge.
On August 3, 2012, the Michigan Supreme Court ordered the state Board of Canvassers to certify a referendum on Public Act 4, the Emergency Manager Law, for the November ballot. Brown made several actions on August 7 including placing a $6 million public safety milage on the ballot and sold Genesee Towers to a development group for $1 to demolish the structure. The Board certified the referendum petition on August 8, returning the previous Emergency Financial Manager Law into effect. With Brown previously temporary mayor for the last few years, Brown was ineligible to be the Emergency Financial Manager. Ed Kurtz was once again appointed Emergency Financial Manager by the Emergency Financial Assistance Loan Board.
Two lawsuits were filed in September 2012, one by the City Council against Kurtz's appointment, while another was against the state in Ingham County Circuit Court claiming the old emergency financial manager law remains repealed.
Michael Brown was re-appointed Emergency Manager on June 26, 2013, and returned to work on July 8. Flint had an $11.3 million projected deficit when Brown started as emergency manager in 2011. The city faces a $19.1 million combined deficit from 2012, with plans to borrow $12 million to cover part of it.
Brown resigned from his position in early September 2013, and his last day was October 31. He was succeeded by Saginaw city manager (and former Flint acting mayor) Darnell Earley.