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From the President: Too Early for Predictions Despite Detroit’s Positive Post-Pandemic Dynamics

Since March 2020, just about every interviewer from local and national media has asked me some version of: “How will the pandemic impact the resurgence of Detroit?” A fair question. Detroit’s revitalization has captured the imagination of people around the world. More than just Detroiters are rooting for Michigan’s signature city.

COVID has forced all of us to reevaluate how we interact, where and how we work, and even where we live. As the pandemic loosens its grip on society, it is fair to speculate on what factors and trends will help – or hurt – the continued resurgence of Detroit.

Predicting the future with a crisis still fresh is not a good idea. As past crises have taught us, we never change as much as we think we will – and we never change as much as we should. Predicting which pandemic-generated trends will last and which will fade away is challenging.

Here are some factors impacting the city’s continued prosperity:

Momentum. Our state, region, and city undeniably had real momentum before COVID. Just about every economic metric was positive, some strongly so. That same energy, these same people and companies that fueled that momentum remain – and are ready to get things moving again.

Nearly every major development project underway prior to the pandemic is on track today. The new Hudson’s Tower, Gordy Howe International Crossing, Ford’s Michigan Central Train Station, and others barely missed a beat.

Setbacks are already being offset. There’s no doubt that the pains of COVID did not fall equally across our society. In recent statewide Chamber polling, 83% reported minor or no negative financial impacts due to the pandemic. Of those who experienced significant financial hardships, persons of color, younger persons, and women suffered the most. There’s work to do to address those inequities, but there is light. The overall unemployment rate is rapidly approaching pre-pandemic levels and jobs are plentiful. Even Detroit’s vaunted restaurant scene, so devastated by COVID, is coming back to life.

A renaissance fueled by private sector success. Setting Detroit on the right path was a collective effort of citizens, civic institutions, government, philanthropy, and the private sector. But sustaining this momentum will rely largely on private industry’s success – their ability to offer good jobs and generate profits that lead to taxes that enable good public services. The good news is that business is good. From the strong performance of our signature auto industry to Rocket Mortgage’s stunning IPO to record profits being reported across multiple industry sectors, the table is set for the private sector to fuel growth post-pandemic.

Strong public governance and finances. Under Mayor Duggan’s leadership, our city, once known for bankruptcy and poor management, is now recognized as one that gets the job done – and with a constructive relationship between the leadership of City Council and the Mayor. Additionally, the federal government will be sending $4.5 billion in COVID relief funds to Michigan cities, and given the recent record of good stewardship, Detroit’s portion of these funds are likely to be deployed wisely.

A positive future does not mean business as usual. While a majority of signs point toward Detroit’s continued momentum, it does not mean that everything will pick up where they were in March 2020. The changes driven by COVID will continue well into 2022. The City and our businesses will need to adapt to new realities and respond to shifting public behavior and demands.

Given all the dynamics at play, there’s no reason Detroit’s resurgence cannot continue deep into the post-pandemic era, but it will not be as easy as dusting off the playbooks we left at the office in March 2020.

Sandy K. Baruah, President and Chief Executive Officer, Detroit Regional Chamber