Print Friendly and PDF

Panelists touch on Michigan’s successes, shortfalls at Detroit Regional Chamber conference

From: The Detroit News

By Christine Ferretti 

May 29, 2014

Infrastructure, education and population growth are among the areas that will be key to the long-term revitalization across Michigan and its largest city, panelists said Thursday at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual policy conference.

Participants in the Mackinac Island discussion touched on the state’s successes, shortfalls and future needs to boost investment and grow jobs in the state’s most prominent cities.

Mackinac Policy Conference Co-Chairman Henry Cooney, president and CEO of the Plunkett Cooney law firm, called the “grittiness” of Detroit an attraction for young people and said the city is experiencing progress under Mayor Mike Duggan.

Cooney hit on the city’s two main needs: jobs and residents and stressed the importance of projects like the M1-Rail.

“Those kinds of investments in the city will bring people — the kind of people we need — to stay there, to live there, work there and raise their families,” he said, noting good schools and shops “are coming,” but are going to be challenges moving forward.

To continue to lead, Michigan needs to keep its focus on transportation, including infrastructure improvements in and around Detroit and the state to attract business, he added.

“It’s key for Detroit and our entire state,” he said, noting legislation to finance a new Detroit River bridge. “That’s got to get done. It will drive the economy and development in the city.”

Cooney was joined Thursday by Sam Cummings, partner for Grand Rapids-based CWD Real Estate Investment, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Kelly Rossman-McKinney, CEO of Truscott Rossman.

There’s an opportunity to duplicate the successes of west Michigan in Detroit, Cummings said.

“We have, in west Michigan, this culture of caring that has manifested itself repeatedly in our urban center,” he said, noting major philanthropic initiatives have anchored the urban renewal in Grand Rapids. “We’ve lucked out. …we are just in an extraordinary position.”

The state, he said, needs to hone the model.

“We are not San Francisco, we are not New York, we are Michigan,” Cummings added. “We need to focus on what works and scale it and exploit it.”

Rossman-McKinney chimed in, comparing Grand Rapids to a “cheerful, upbeat cousin,” and said Detroit is “get tough” and “gritty.” Meanwhile, she said Lansing is still struggling with its personality.

“The challenge is making sure that the state creates ways in which every city can thrive, build on its own personality and deliver the services everybody wants for their families and their businesses,” she said.

Both Rossman-McKinney and Cummings voiced concern over quality schools and its corresponding impact on population retention. Cummings says schools have not created a roadblock to a revitalized urban core, but may create a challenge in retaining young families.

“When they decide to procreate, we are going to have an at-bat, and we need to be ready,” he said.

For his part, Patterson touted his county’s three-year budget, paid-off pension and retiree health care costs, Main Street initiatives and long-range planning.

“We know what our strengths are,” he said, noting the county’s strong economic base, green technology and emerging sectors.

The Oakland County executive said Snyder is taking “the right approach,” but the business climate needs to improve further.

“It’s still not a very hospitable place to do business,” he said. “We’ve got to work on that.”

Another area Rossman-McKinney called “one last piece of the puzzle” for Michigan, is the importance of gaining voter support on Aug. 5 for Proposal 1, a state ballot measure that would eliminate the personal property tax on industry and small businesses. Revenue for local communities would be replaced by other sources under the proposal.

Gov. Rick Snyder and other opponents of the tax have called it an impediment to growth that fosters new jobs. It has already been abolished in surrounding states.