I believe that the best way to strengthen the quality of life, ensure long-term opportunities for our loved ones, and combat society’s ills is a solid economy with good jobs. It is why I’m an economic developer, and it’s why I’m in Detroit right now. This city has a rich history as an economic and cultural hub, and it is clearly on its way to a strong recovery. There is a palpable sense of excitement about Detroit’s turnaround.
The enthusiasm we feel is a great motivator, but it is not a final result. We have to keep channeling that enthusiasm in ways that improve lives in measurable ways. I think there are five key components to that effort — and I call them the Five Ps: Plan, Partnership, People, Publish, and Population.
Detroit needs a detailed strategic plan to drive our work generating new investment. Detroit Future City gave us a solid, overarching long-term framework, but we need more detailed strategies focused on building on our strengths and broadening investments in automotive, manufacturing, logistics, defense, information technology, food and renewable energy. To work, the strategies need support from the public and private sectors as well as our highly committed philanthropic community.
Although my focus as the president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation is growing the economic base of the city of Detroit, I am personally a strong proponent of regional collaboration. There are three million people in the region, and we all suffer if we continue to behave as though our actions don’t affect others. To become a consistent magnet for global investments, the region needs Detroit as a strong urban core, and Detroit needs thriving suburbs. We have strong leadership at every level of government in city, county, region and state, and I am proud to work in partnership with all of them to keep the economic momentum building.
As terrific as they are in their own right, Detroit’s economic successes in a few high-profile districts do emphasize the challenges we still face in our population as a whole. The Detroit unemployment rate hovers at 27 percent, the adult poverty level is 38 percent and among children it’s 58 percent. We should pursue development strategies that decrease the gap between the haves and have-nots. That means encouraging entrepreneurs and neighborhood businesses. It also means using the tools we have now to ensure that public investments in companies generate jobs and other benefits to make those investments worthwhile.
Publish (and Post)
In spite of some remarkably positive headlines around the world, most people still don’t recognize the progress we’ve made in Detroit. We are not trying to “go back” to recreate the Detroit of the 20th Century. We are building something new, but based on the strengths of our legacy as a center of manufacturing, culture and opportunities for everyone, regardless of their race, nationality or gender. That’s a good story and we need to own it, live it, and tell it to each other and the world through our personal communications, social media, and traditional press. For better or worse, our communications define us; we have to publish, post or perish.
This is part two of “People.” Not only do we have to generate better opportunities for people who live in Detroit today, but we have to grow our population by convincing new people to move here. Let’s face it, we’ve got room for a lot more people, so let’s start recruiting them and welcoming them when they arrive. Across the world, young people are coming back to cities, and Detroit is in a perfect position to catch that wave. We have great talent graduating from our universities and colleges, and we have to include them in our strategies for development. Job opportunities attract people and a growing population generates economic activity and a growing tax base for city services, so let’s take advantage of that virtuous cycle.
In sum, Detroit can and should be a leader in the global next economy. Using the key building blocks of committed business leadership, political will, and community engagement, we can ensure the strong economy that the people of Detroit deserve. At DEGC we work hard every day recruiting new businesses and promoting the growth of existing businesses — not just for their own sake — but to create jobs and opportunities for Detroiters, increase City revenues, and improve the quality of City services and the quality of life for people who live, work or visit here.
President and CEO