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Mike Duggan: ‘People Never Lost Confidence in Our Future’

 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, in a one-on-one discussion with Fox 2 News’ Roop Raj, shared the impact the pandemic had on Detroit and the city’s direction as it forges ahead. Duggan made it clear that Detroit isn’t behind, and that in the midst of crisis and uncertainty, the city kept moving and persevering.

“I don’t know that all that much stopped,” said Duggan. The city’s long-term development is ongoing with things like constructions pushing forward through pandemic times. Though there were significant short-term impacts on sectors like small business and hospitality, Duggan touted collaboration and critical resources to support a meaningful recovery.

“The business community and philanthropic community just pulled together tremendously,” said Duggan.

Grants, loans, arrangements to restructure rents, PPE distributions, and an early start to vaccinating workers in food service and grocery stores helped keep businesses afloat through shutdowns and restrictions.

Despite these support measures, vaccination challenges pose a threat to the pace of the city’s recovery. Sixty percent of the city is not vaccinated, and to move the needle, Duggan emphasized the importance of personal connections, urging citizens who have been vaccinated to encourage their families and friends as trusted advisers to do the same. Much distrust of the vaccine is tied to distrust in government. In his role as mayor, Duggan finds his influence is far more effective by connecting with city residents one-on-one.

Workforce

Compared to his time leading a hospital system, Duggan acknowledges that talent retention issues are improving. A prime example, the automotive and mobility sector has plentiful opportunities showing promise for a burgeoning talent pipeline. Duggan hopes this will encourage other businesses to put down roots in Detroit.

In light of the current worker shortages coming out of the pandemic, key changes need to be made to ensure workers’ needs are met in terms of wages, child care, and more.

“I think people can afford to pay a little bit more to eat out in order to pay people a fair wage,” said Duggan.

As fall approaches, Duggan is optimistic that jobs will start filling again as additional unemployment payments end and children start going back to school. Going back to the office, though, may be a different story.

The flexibility of work-from-home arrangements is transforming how business is done and potentially impacting downtown business centers.

“Most companies I talk to don’t believe they can keep the culture of their company, bring in new employees and have them be a part of it if they’re always on Zoom,” said Duggan. “That doesn’t mean you need to be in the office five days a week.”

That considered, Duggan expects a more hybrid approach to office work with part-time in-person schedules and more versatile utilization of office buildings for things like residential.

Neighborhoods

Blight removal has been a cornerstone of Mayor Duggan’s approach to neighborhood development and recovery in the city.

“What is so exciting to me are the number of houses in the city being renovated today,” said Duggan. With home values increasing, more people are willing to invest in renovation projects. This investment is coming from individuals – not the government.

“We’re starting this shift back as what Detroit’s been known historically for, as homeownership,” said Duggan. “It’s good to see that.”

Ten years before his administration, 250,000 people moved out of the city, a challenge he then inherited.

“The people who stayed, aught to get a benefit,” said Duggan. To that end, he allowed those residents who stayed to buy the lot next to them for $100. “We’re moving the land from government ownership to the ownership of the people who stayed in the neighborhoods,” said Duggan, and is something he wants to continue to accelerate.

Despite this progress, schools and crime remain issues preventing people from staying in the city. Duggan said Superintendent Vitti has the schools on the right track and that American Rescue Plan funding will help continued improvement in this area.

“I’m more optimistic about the Detroit Public Schools than I’ve been in a long time,” said Duggan.

Crime remains an issue Duggan’s administration is working to address. Close collaboration with the Detroit Police Department and implementation of technology like “Shot Spotter” are helping improve responses to crimes in the city.

Further, as a testament to the city’s community policing, Detroit was one of the only cities in the country without a store looted or a fire set because of former Chief James Craig’s years’ long relationship building with activist groups in the city. Duggan believes this collaboration will continue under the next generation of police leadership in Detroit.

Looking Ahead

When asked about what’s made him successful in his role as mayor, Duggan shared the importance of connecting with his constituents, “from neighborhood to neighborhood, living room to living room, basement to basement.” Connecting with them on a human level, discussing their needs and aspiration.

“[The public] they’re not so interested in my skin color,” said Duggan. ‘They want to know, ‘do I care?’ and is their city government going to respond?”

Looking ahead, Duggan is proud of the progress the city has made and the evolution of the feedback he’s receiving from residents – shifting away from lack of critical services that have since been improved. Finally, Duggan shared the impact of federal stimulus dollars on the future of Detroit. The city was among the first city in the country to make a comprehensive plan of how to get money into the city, with more money in senior home repair than ever before and hopes to fund a full year of pre-K for every 4-year-old in the city to better prepare them.

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