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New regional economic development nonprofit gets a name, starts meeting with leaders in 11-county area

January 10, 2019

By: Sherri Welch

Crain’s Detroit Business

The economic development nonprofit created by the “no-name” regional CEO group has a new name and has launched a monthlong “listening tour.”

Counties covered by Detroit Regional Partnership

Genesee County
Lapeer County
Lenawee County
Livingston County
Macomb County
Monroe County
Oakland County
Shiawassee County
St. Clair County
Washtenaw County
Wayne County

Led by CEO Barry Matherly, the newly named Detroit Regional Partnership is meeting with stakeholders across 11 counties in Southeast Michigan to learn more about economic-development programs and priorities in each.

Matherly has started out talking with community leaders in Washtenaw, Monroe and Lenawee counties and plans to meet over the next few weeks with their peers in eight other Southeast Michigan counties that mirror the Detroit Regional Chamber’s territory

Among them is Oakland County, which is set to meet with Matherly and the Detroit Regional Partnership in two weeks.

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson will not participate in any initial meetings, said Bill Mullan, spokesman for the Oakland County executive.

But other county representatives will, including Deputy County Executive/Chief Information Officer Phil Bertolini, Chief Deputy County Executive Gerald Poisson, Deputy County Executive Tim Meyer and the county’s new director of economic development and community affairs, Michael McCread.

Patterson in August publicly criticized the no-name CEO group that formed the Detroit Regional Partnership, saying he’d “rather join the Klan” than pay dues to the business attraction group.

Within hours, he apologized for his “poor choice of words” but not for his statements that downtown leaders are trying to “poach” suburban businesses.

Patterson had lashed out after business leaders began trying to raise $4 million to $6 million from chamber members to stand up the new business attraction nonprofit.

Patterson told Crain’s at the time that his ire with the no-name CEO group began when it came out in support of mass transit last April, just as Patterson and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel were resisting a push from Wayne County Executive Warren Evans and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan to put a transit millage on the November ballot.

The county’s willingness to meet with the Detroit Regional Partnership doesn’t indicate a shift in opinion, Mullan said.

“We’re going to examine if this group adds value to what we do in economic development for the county,” he said. “We’ll see what comes out of this meeting.”

Matherly, who led similar business attraction efforts in Virginia before coming to Southeast Michigan, is focused on the region’s potential rather than its political tensions.

“This region has so much potential, and I’m excited to build on progress to date and help take it to the next level,” he said in a release.

The Detroit Regional Partnership organization will build upon the people and assets of the business attraction group that was formerly part of the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Operating autonomously from rented space in the chamber’s offices, it will focus on marketing the region to out-of-state and international companies to attract investment and jobs, with a team of eight employees, including five who came from the chamber.

The new nonprofit’s name is similar to the chamber’s former business attraction effort called Detroit Regional Economic Partnership, which evolved into Destination Detroit. That entity’s team is now folding into the new partnership, Carly Weedgetz, chief of staff, corporate communications for DTE Energy Co., said in an email, speaking on behalf of the partnership.

“Under Barry Matherly’s leadership of the Detroit Regional Partnership, the award-winning chamber program, Destination Detroit, will be taken to a new level of results with even more resources and a laser focus on growing jobs and investment that will enhance the economic outlook for all of Southeast Michigan,” said Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, in an emailed statement.

Baruah will be among the new partnership’s board members, a spokesman for the chamber said.

Barry Matherly

The board will not mirror the “no-name” CEO group, Weedgetz said, noting board members will be announced when fully seated.

For its part, the Detroit Regional Chamber will continue work on other facets of economic development including MICHauto, an initiative to help promote, retain and grow the automotive industry in the region, and a talent initiative, in collaboration with the partnership, she said.

“Having an organization dedicated to marketing our region and attracting investment is such an important step forward in our region’s momentum and recovery,” Gerry Anderson, DTE Energy Chairman and CEO and chair of the Detroit Regional Partnership, said in the release.

“This group is exactly what its new name reinforces: a partnership — by the region and for the region — to attract investment and jobs that will add vitality to our communities.”

Anderson was named among Crain’s 2018 Newsmakers, in part for his role in leading the no-name CEO group that launched the Detroit Regional Partnership.

At his invitation, a group of roughly 20 corporate and foundation leaders began meeting quarterly late in the fall of 2016 to discuss regional issues. The group worked quietly for a year and a half on issues including youth employment, career and technical education offerings in Detroit, workforce development and benchmarking of other regional, economic development efforts before making its presence known last April when it came out in support of putting a regional transit initiative on the November ballot.

Its plans to create an economic-development nonprofit came to light in June during the Mackinac Policy Conference.

Shortly after, the group began looking at the state of Detroit’s parks, trails and other public spaces — what exists and what’s planned and the resources needed and available to maintain them and the best practices around the country for doing so.

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