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Leaving no one behind in Detroit’s recovery

Aug 7, 2018

From Kevin Johnson, President and CEO

A recent New York Times article raised an issue that many U.S. cities in the process of rebuilding themselves are facing: Who gets left out? While the Times’ article focused specifically on the technology boom, the same narrative could be applied to most developing industries that promise the next generation of good jobs and opportunity.

The article compared two seemingly similar Pennsylvania cities, separated by just a few miles. Today, City A is benefitting from the tech boom; City B is not.

Like Detroit, the last 30 years have been hard on City A and City B. They’ve experienced plant closings and layoffs, as well as increased violence. Businesses have been shuttered, and residents have left.

But that’s where the similarities between these two cities end.

Over the past decade, City A has focused very intentionally on redefining itself. It chose to become a tech hub. Thanks to hard work, smart investments, a market rebound and the benefit of time, this city is realizing its goal. Once closed factories are now the home to sprawling mixed-use spaces, gathering places and skunkworks. It boasts an incubator for tech start-ups and has even made the shortlist for Amazon’s coveted second headquarters.

Through strategic investments in leadership, talent and infrastructure, this Pennsylvania city has developed a winning formula for development and achieved the type of transformation cities like Detroit seek to replicate.

Unfortunately, City B is very different from City A. Without a similarly focused effort to claim a future of prosperity, it is today a shell of its former self:  600 vacant and tax-delinquent residential properties, closing businesses and a dwindling population.

“What makes these two places so different?” the articles asked.

Its answer, “How strategic investments are made in leadership, talent and infrastructure.”

Claiming Our Destiny

Like City A, Detroit is in the process of intentionally redefining itself. We are positioning ourselves for success by focusing on the markets we lead, including mobility, technology and manufacturing. In fact, Business Facilities’ 14th Annual Report on business climate ranked Michigan in the top 10 for several categories including automotive, semiconductors, manufacturing and bioscience. Our educational institutions, business leaders, foundations, and city/state officials are working together to ensure that Detroit is the best-of-the-best in these clusters through a number of private/public partner initiatives. With an iron-clad value proposition in these segments, Detroit is attracting the type of companies that will bring good jobs to citizens and work to revitalize our neighborhoods.

What must Detroit do differently to avoid creating a disenfranchised “left out” population? How do we ensure that the benefits created by the new economy are accessible to all residents? How does Detroit avoid the pitfalls so many other cities have experienced in their effort to nurture new investment and placemaking? How do we not become City B?

The key, according to the Times, is for cities to make investments in people with real links to black-owned businesses, entrepreneurs and historically black institutions. Those investments must be curated to aid local businesses, rather than create conditions for displacement. I’m proud to say that, with Mayor Duggan’s administration, DEGC is connecting with a variety of minority organizations and enterprises to ensure inclusion in the city’s economic development plan. Where opportunity doesn’t exist, we’re creating it. DEGC is working with all of its stakeholders to connect Detroiters with opportunity, including:

  1. Supporting minority developers
  2. Creating resources for minority entrepreneurs and business owners
  3. Increasing neighborhood jobs
  4. Advocating for affordable housing requirements as well as reduced lease rates for Detroit businesses in new mixed-use developments
  5. Leveraging Opportunity Zones and other community investment tools

This is just a small sample of DEGC initiatives that work to ensure that everyone is represented in Detroit’s turnaround. Inclusion is paramount in creating a city that invites people to visit, do business and call home. Do we have all the solutions? No. But we share in investigating and deploying strategies. We know that a house divided against itself will not stand. Please join with DEGC in creating a city where no one is left behind (#IntentionalMiracle).

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