Detroit Regional Chamber > Detroit Policy Conference > Four Local Change-Makers Deliver Impactful Power Perspectives at the 2024 Detroit Policy Conference

Four Local Change-Makers Deliver Impactful Power Perspectives at the 2024 Detroit Policy Conference

January 12, 2024

View the session recordings below.

Throughout the 2024 Detroit Policy Conference, four local changemakers took the stage to deliver TEDx Talk-style impact stories that highlighted industry-specific calls to action that can help sustain and increase Michigan’s population.

These Power Perspectives were sponsored by Meta.

‘Why Detroit?’: Jeanette Pierce, President, City Institute

For City Institute’s President Jeanette Pierce, the question, “Why Detroit?” is top-of-mind—a question she seeks to answer through her impactful work at City Institute, an organization whose mission is to attract and retain talent, engage and inspire residents, promote small businesses, and build equitable, thriving cities.

“Assets and challenges are not mutually exclusive. They exist simultaneously in every city,” she said. “We have to realize that Detroit has a value proposition today. Michigan has a value proposition today.”

Pierce finds it crucial to share Detroit’s current value proposition with outsiders today and to “make the pitch for why Detroit” to grow Michigan’s population.

There are 800 bars, restaurants, and coffee shops in Detroit. Not only does the city offer world-class museums, including the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, and the Detroit Historical Museum, Detroit is home to the second largest theatre district in the U.S. Detroit is the only city in the U.S. to be named a UNESCO City of Design, with world-renowned architecture sprinkled throughout the downtown area.

She also reminded the audience of the four professional sports leagues that play downtown, the city’s parks and public spaces—like the Riverwalk—the investment in education, and the little things, such as friendly business owners and neighbors.

“Detroit is big enough to matter in the world and small enough for you to matter in it,” concluded Pierce.

Finding a Future in Detroit: Ashok Sivanand, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Integral

The definition of ‘home’ varies from individual to individual. To Ashok Sivanand, Integral’s Founder and Chief Executive Officer, it means “where you feel accepted when you are being authentic and where you are encouraged and inspired to be the best version of yourself.”

To Sivanand, a refugee child of war, home is the city of Detroit—where he had the opportunity to discover his ‘why.’ Detroit is the place where Sivanand was able to start his own business and help ambitious companies transform into technology-enabled leaders of transformation. It is where he felt compelled to bridge the race and gender gap among Detroit’s technologists.

Additionally, Detroit is the place Sivanand was able to finally own a home with a rich and beautiful history and the city he chooses to stay in—where he continues to exercise his ‘why.’

“It’s here where I finally got to define what home means to me,” he concluded. “Thank you, Detroit, for doing that for me.”

Equity for All: Anika Goss, Chief Executive Officer, Detroit Future City

“I hope you have a soft life” is how Detroit Future City’s Chief Executive Officer, Anika Goss, opened her Power Perspective—inviting Conference attendees to picture achieving prosperity without barriers and limitations.

However, in a majority Black city, Black Detroiters have the lowest homeownership rate compared to White and Latino Detroiters. Black workers with a bachelor’s degree make $9 less than White workers, and in 2021, only 16% of Detroiters had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

“Nothing about this data would lead to a soft life. If these are the conditions of Black people in the largest city in Michigan, what does this say about our ability to attract and retain a diverse, equitable, and resilient population across the state,” said Goss.

As Michigan looks to grow its population, it must think “about the standard of excellence of all people.” Now is the time to forge a solution grounded in equity and resiliency. Michigan must prepare kids to be academically competitive on the national level and add new value and accessibility to education. It must include innovation hubs, investment in aging infrastructure, and an aggressive and inclusive climate plan.

“The term of having a soft life is a wish and a blessing that young people are bestowing on one another as a sentiment of hope,” she concluded. “It’s a hope that I share and that everyone at this Conference can share and have the agency to create a shared commitment to improving the conditions to ensure that there are no limits to the opportunities for a prosperous Detroit and the growth of Michigan.”

Creating a World-Class Public Transportation System: Michael Griffie, Detroit Metro Leader, AECOM

To Michael Griffie, Detroit Metro Leader of AECOM, it is crucial that Michigan focuses on keeping its young people in the state and region before recruiting transplants and expats, which begins with creating a world-class public transportation system.

“I believe it starts with public transit. Creating a world-class public transportation system. Our young people want it, and they deserve it,” said Griffie.

What can Detroit’s public transit system look like? Imagine using public transit to connect Downtown Detroit by adding and expanding the People Mover’s footprint to include popular destinations like MotorCity Casino, Comerica Park, and Ford Field. Bus rapid transit could connect the city’s neighborhoods, and ultra-high-speed rail could connect Detroit to the larger region, making it convenient to travel to Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Detroit Metro Airport, Chicago, and Toronto.

According to Griffie, Michigan must “get serious on how we pay for it” and move away from relying on property tax millages. His Power Perspective ended by equating Detroit’s chance at world-class transit to landing on the moon.

“Creating a world-class public transit system here in Detroit is our moonshot,” he said. “Something that the little girl chasing the bus deserves and that future generations of Michiganders deserve as well.”