Detroit: How can we Help?

There is no denying that Detroit has many issues facing it and has for decades. The pinnacle of its woes may have arrived when it sank into bankruptcy last year. With so many experts and news outlets reporting that Michigan’s comeback isn’t possible or is extremely slowed without the resurgence of Detroit, what responsibilities do outstate communities hold?

Detroit is part of a region that produces 75 percent of Michigan’s exports and is in good company with cities like Houston, New York and Los Angeles, but the city reputation and failing governmental oversight has hurt the prosperity of that region as well as out-state communities. Fairly or unfairly, the State of Michigan is judged by the world’s knowledge of Detroit — good and bad.

According to the Detroit Regional Chamber, it benefits everyone in our state to support Detroit as the community is making progress with strong investment.

“Trying to compete economically with other states and countries without a strong Detroit is like being in a fight with one hand tied behind our back. Michigan is better off with a prosperous Detroit. Period,” said Jim Martinez, communications director of the Detroit Regional Chamber. “Since 2006, approximately $12 billion has been invested in commercial, industrial and residential properties in the city of Detroit. Corporations, such as Quicken Loans and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, have added nearly 12,000 jobs in downtown Detroit over the past few years.”

In recent years communities like Lansing, Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor paved their own ways by focusing on each region’s assets separately and aggressively seeking economic development by internal and external companies. The Lansing region has been named to multiple lists indicating that its turnaround has been moving forward for several years. Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero agrees that each community needed to fend for itself in order to succeed but the big picture includes Detroit.

“The stats would say that we didn’t wait on Detroit. We are judged by Detroit and in the short run, the sad reality is that we had to distinguish ourselves as ‘not’ Detroit,” said Bernero. “We had to insulate ourselves because bankruptcy does not instill confidence, but that is a short-term strategy.”

Competing with other states as the negative perception of Detroit weighs on decisions has been difficult, but not impossible according to Mayor Bernero. He indicated that there had been hard-fought wins for Lansing despite Detroit as the flagship city, as well as losses.

The long-term strategy, according to the Detroit Regional Chamber and the Mayor of Lansing, is to support the growth of Detroit through collaboration and understand that the resurgence of Detroit is happening and a positive perception of the embattled community as it turns around.

“Michiganders can support Detroit’s comeback by raising awareness about the importance of Detroit to Michigan’s economic future. They can also voice their support of Detroit to representatives in Lansing and Washington,” said Martinez. “The assets of (the) region and Detroit far outweigh the negatives and have the city poised to emerge stronger from bankruptcy.

While it’s critical to share the positives of Detroit’s story, the most important component of winning the public relations battle is to fix the actual problems,” he added.

Mayor Bernero agrees. As the City of Detroit works through its problems and moves toward building a new era of growth and investment, he has reached out to the new mayor of Detroit, Mike Duggan and has given support.

“We’re working with Detroit, Flint and Ann Arbor on a designation for federal manufacturing assistance,” he said. “Instead of competing with each other, we decided to do something similar to the Research Triangle and to get this key designation to Michigan.

Obviously, we do this because we have the utmost faith in Detroit as a region that will come back,” added Bernero.

The Detroit Regional Chamber echoes this sentiment. Regional collaboration is critical to continued economic development in the region.

“Global market forces don’t recognize political borders, and so Michigan must adopt a statewide approach,” said Martinez. “In the big picture, a win for Lansing is a win for Detroit is a win for Traverse City is a win for Grand Rapids.”

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