Chamber’s Work to Grow Region’s Educated Workforce Backed by Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren

Last week, the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren endorsed the Detroit Regional Chamber’s plan to establish a regional Education Compact, a key step in ensuring that the region is educated, healthy and employed to compete in the 21st century global economy. The Compact will be led by the Chamber’s Detroit Drives Degrees initiative, with the support of a grant from The Kresge Foundation.

The endorsement was part of the Coalition’s action items under six priorities it released in a new report titled “Our Schools, Our Moment.” The report highlights areas that can be acted upon immediately by leaders across the public and private sectors to ensure success for all students.

Under the Chamber’s direction, the Detroit Drives Degrees Education Compact  will establish long-term goals and set key benchmarks in bolstering postsecondary readiness, access and success for Detroit students. This initiative represents a collective commitment by leaders in education, business, philanthropy, government and the nonprofit community to address an ongoing barrier to regional economic development – a lack of residents with higher education credentials or college degrees compared to peer regions across the country.

Currently in the beginning phases, Detroit Drives Degrees has begun to identify baseline data, create the Compact framework, and conduct economic analysis to determine education attainment needs through 2030. Steps to finalize the Compact agreement will take place over the next 18 months, with a signing ceremony slated for 2019.

“The goal of the Detroit Drives Degrees Education Compact will be to facilitate partnerships between K-12 stakeholders and postsecondary education institutions with a shared goal,” explained Greg Handel, vice president of education and talent for the Chamber. “It is needed to drive collective action in helping more students achieve their postsecondary goals. The Coalition voicing its support is an important step forward in this endeavor to increase student success.”

The Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren, comprised of a diverse cross-section of business, civic, education, philanthropic, religious and community leaders, make the case that these six priorities ensure Detroit’s youth are educated to career- and college-ready standards. The Chamber’s Forward Detroit Strategy has aligned with the goals of the report and the Chamber is a key partner and business voice for the Coalition. Chamber President and CEO Sandy Baruah serves as a steering committee member of the Coalition and has been involved from its inception.
The Coalition’s priorities outlined in the report include:

  1. Get Serious About Attendance – Students have to show up to learn.
  2. Choose Detroit – Getting students and educators to our schools.
  3. Learn to Read, Then Read to Learn – Reading by third grade is essential.
  4. Keep Pace with Detroit’s Economic Recovery – Give students multiple college and career pathways after high school.
  5. Fully Fund Special Education – State and federal action required.
  6. Expect Improved Cooperation and Accountability from Our Leaders – Shared responsibility means all schools working together.

Read and download the full report here.

Michigan’s economic growth is sustained by an educated workforce, which is why it is critical the business community be engaged and have a voice in the Coalition. Among the five co-chairs of the Coalition representing the business community are Chamber Executive Committee member John Rakolta Jr., president and CEO of Walbridge; and Mark Reuss, executive vice president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain for General Motors Co. Additional co-chairs include: Tonya Allen, president and CEO of The Skillman Foundation; Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit branch for the NAACP; and Angela Reyes, executive director of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corp.

This report is the second released by the Coalition since its formation three years ago. The first report, “Choice Is Ours,” is targeted toward Lansing lawmakers regarding reforming Detroit Public Schools Community District.

For more information about Detroit Drives Degrees, an initiative of Forward Detroit, visit

John Rakolta Jr. Headlines JVS’s 19th Annual Strictly Business Luncheon

Business leaders who reflect the strength and innovation of Detroit will highlight JVS’s 19th Annual Strictly Business Networking and Awards Luncheon, 11:30 a.m. Thursday, June 23 at the MGM Grand in Detroit.

Headlining the event is Walbridge Chairman and CEO John Rakolta Jr., who will serve as honorary chair and keynote speaker. Rakolta will welcome an anticipated crowd of nearly 800 business and community leaders and talk about rebuilding Detroit. Strictly Business is a fundraiser to support JVS in its efforts to put metro Detroiters back to work.

“This event exemplifies who we are and what we do,” said Joshua Eichenhorn, Strictly Business co-chair. “We will showcase the success stories of three people who JVS helped to overcome obstacles to employment. These individuals will each receive an Employee of the Year Award at the event.”

In addition, event goers will hear from two successful young business owners receiving awards from JVS. Paul Glomski, co-founder and CEO of Detroit Labs, will accept the 2016 JVS Business Leadership Award on behalf of his company, Detroit Labs, and Zack Sklar, majority owner and chef of Peas & Carrots Hospitality, will receive the 2016 JVS Rising Entrepreneur Award.

“While Sklar and Glomski’s relatively young companies reflect a burgeoning Detroit, Rakolta’s firm symbolizes its strong foundation,” said Eichenhorn. “They are helping to build momentum in Detroit’s comeback.”

Founded in Detroit in 1916, this year marks the centennial for Walbridge, one of America’s largest privately owned construction companies. The Detroit-based firm has built iconic projects such as Olympia Stadium, Orchestra Hall and the Ford Rouge development, and withstood economic highs and lows that have been devastating for the construction industry.

During Rakolta’s tenure, Walbridge has grown from a regional firm with annual sales of $40 million in the mid-1970s to a global entity registering sales of more than $1.5 billion in 2014. The company is ranked among the largest contractors in America and it tops domestic automotive manufacturing construction.

Rakolta has been a leader in both business and the community and is noted for taking on the region’s toughest challenges, including job creation, education, diversity and health care. Especially passionate about transforming the Detroit Public Schools, he currently co-chairs the Coalition for the Future of Detroit School Children. The group issued recommendations in 2015 and continues to advocate for stabilizing the troubled school district to ensure a quality education for all Detroit schoolchildren.

“Through his work with the Detroit Schools coalition and other groups such as the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and New Detroit, John has shown remarkable commitment to rebuilding Michigan and Detroit,” said Leah Rosenbaum, JVS president and CEO. “We’re thrilled he’ll share his insight with us at Strictly Business.”

Strictly Business is co-chaired by Joshua Eichenhorn and Jeffrey Tischler. Find details about sponsorships and registration at or contact Judy Strongman at or (248) 233-4213.

About JVS
JVS is an award-winning human services organization with four main locations in Metropolitan Detroit that helps people realize life’s potential through a variety of programs to maximize their self-sufficiency. The agency helps job seekers jumpstart their job search, provides meaningful services to people with disabilities and helps seniors remain active and engaged.