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Hands Up for Detroit or Inforum Inspiration

We all need some inspiration once in a while. Whether it is through mentors, co-workers or friends, getting another person's point of view can refresh the mind and soul.

So I was hopeful when I walked into Inforum's “Inner Circle” event Tuesday that I might meet an inspiration or two. After all, this has been a hard week for Detroit: dissed on CNN and Dateline, Kwame in court and seemingly no end to the negativity in the air.

Thankfully, I chose the right place. Inforum is Michigan's largest alliance of professional women. And I was lucky enough to be seated near Cynthia Pasky, President and CEO of Strategic Staffing Solutions, which soon will celebrate its 21st year in Detroit.

How about this for inspiration: Pasky's company is adding 400 jobs to Detroit in the next two years. And I'm fired up about having a group like Inforum, which gives all people, particularly women, a place to socialize, network and grow as businesspeople. Because if this city is going to survive, it needs one thing: more JOBS.

Some background on Inforum: A group of 23 Detroit business women founded this business forum in 1962. Today, it has more than 1,800 members. It is a not-for-profit and non-partisan organization. Its mission is to “strengthen the business environment in Michigan by creating opportunities for women to lead and succeed.”

Full disclosure: Inforum is the group that asked Time Inc. CEO Ann Moore to speak to its members in January about the Assignment: Detroit project. While I did attend some of those related activities, I chose to go to Tuesday's event independent of my Time bosses.

I wanted to write about the group for many reasons, but I am particularly interested in studying how its members support one another. The Inner Circle awards event seemed like the ideal situation. Its purpose is not only to honor 11 of its top members, but to provide a space where women could talk about business and get answers.

Here's how it worked: Rather than give speeches about each honoree or let them drone on about themselves, Inforum set us all up at tables together. Then we could grill them – ahem – have a discussion with that honoree, asking everything we wanted of that influential female. (I wish I could go back and sit at each table; imagine the knowledge you would gain.)

I asked to sit with Pasky in particular. She is fired up about saving this city – and she's actually got the power, brains and skills to do it.

Really, I don't want to embarrass her, but she is damn impressive. She talked to our table about the importance of collaboration, about creating opportunities for one another. Pasky also explained how she may not have initially chosen IT staffing as her profession, but she was very good at it. And that made for a very successful business.

Strategic Staffing Solutions has been profitable every one of its nearly 21 years. It operates 23 U.S. branches and two international offices with 1,700 employees providing a host of IT services to more than 250 customers, most of which are name-brand businesses in finance, energy and other fast-growing industries.

She is friends with the big players in Detroit: Penske, Karmanos, Gilbert. And, like them, she loves Detroit. Her family settled here after immigrating from Lithuania, so it is home. Yes, she currently lives in Detroit, too. What she likes about these fellows – and many of the CEOs in Detroit – is that they are hands-on people. They are engaged in Detroit and the process of changing the city.

Detroit is her headquarters figuratively and literally for many reasons, Pasky said. It's friendly. It's has soul. And it's got an attitude. And it is where she is growing her business; S3's new development center (the one with the 400 new jobs) will open next month.

How will change happen here? Pasky said it will take many, many small steps. It will take CEOs believing in Detroit. And it will take more jobs. But the right people (Mayor Dave Bing, Police Chief Warren Evans and Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manger Robert Bobb) are in place to make it happen.

Pasky also told us the hold music at S3 is an old-school tune called “Hands Up for Detroit.” Yeah, I'm feeling that way after my inspirational evening with some brainy chicks. That was just what this woman needed.

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