Special Edition: 2013 Detroit Policy Conference Engages Business Community in Timely City Discussion

For full news coverage of the 2013 Detroit Policy Conference, click here. You can also view videos and photos from the event here.

2013 Detroit Policy Conference Inspires Engagement, Sparks Timely Discussion

Nearly 600 of Detroit’s government, business and community leaders gathered today to take part in a day dedicated to Detroit’s success during the Detroit Regional Chamber’s 2013 Detroit Policy Conference. The Conference discussion continued online, with tweets streaming live throughout the day on MLIVE Buzz Boards located throughout the MotorCity Casino Hotel.

Chamber President and CEO Sandy K. Baruah also explained to Conference attendees Charter One’s unique Growing Communities program, which provides microgrants to vendors and farmers at Eastern Market who then use the funds to grow their businesses. The Growing Communities Market Refreshment Breaks between Conference sessions highlighted this program and followed the Conference theme of responsible corporate citizenship for shared growth. To watch the video of Baruah’s speech, click here.

Rock Ventures’ Matt Cullen Talks Opportunity in DetroitBeginning the morning keynote sessions, Rock Ventures President and CEO Matt Cullen took the stage to highlight the array of projects taking place throughout the city through the Rock Ventures portfolio and others with the goal of providing citizens a dynamic place to live, work and play. He outlined in detail the progress made in bringing business back into the city through talent attraction, greater quality of life opportunities and increased redevelopment efforts. He also talked about the Rock Ventures/Quicken Loans community campaign, “Opportunity Detroit.” The campaign focuses on promoting business opportunities in Detroit and was showcased on a commercial featuring Kid Rock, which aired nationally during World Series Game 4 and during the Thanksgiving Day Lions game. To view the video of Cullen’s keynote speech, click here.

Dr. Richard Florida Focuses on Importance of Creativity to Economic Success

Best-selling author and renowned “urbanist” Dr. Richard Florida took the Detroit Policy Conference stage this morning to quantify Detroit’s continued comeback. Florida, who recently completed a five-part video series titled “Detroit Rising,” stressed the importance of tackling urban development with an entrepreneurial spirit. During one of the high points of his remarks, Florida said that if you had asked him if Detroit could recover the way it has 10 years ago, he would’ve said no. He noted that he would’ve given the city credit for having plenty to build on, but that this amount of progress is impressive.

He said that this is an economic time driven not by knowledge or technology or corporations, but that of a creative class. He said the key to nurturing and growing this type of developing economy, especially in a city like Detroit, is a defined transit strategy like the M-1 Rail and the development and incubation of the service industry. This session was sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. To watch the full speech, click here.

Morning Panelists Re-Imagine Detroit’s Greatest Institutional Assets

Following the morning keynote sessions, the Conference split into concurrent breakout sessions with topics ranging from the food and creative industries in Detroit to the city’s greatest assets. One of these sessions, “Re-Imagining Detroit’s Assets: Leadership, Policy and a Strong Urban Core,” featured panelists including Larry Alexander, chairman, Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority; Graham Beal, president, Detroit Institute of Arts; Thomas Naughton, CEO, Wayne County Airport Authority; and Faye Nelson, president and CEO, Detroit RiverFront Conservancy. Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs for DTE Energy Paul Hillegonds moderated the session.

Panelists discussed the policies being put forth that will help ensure the vibrancy and reinvention of Detroit’s largest institutions continue to flourish. The panel collectively presented the keys to revitalizing Detroit’s most valued institutions as being dependent on collaborative community efforts and forward-thinking strategies. The speakers agreed that public-private partnerships are crucial elements in driving progress. This session was sponsored by Chase.

IT Panel Analyzes Emerging Technology Sector in Detroit Region

The final group of breakout sessions highlighted topics including small business, urban development and the IT industry. The “Outpacing Silicon Valley: How Detroit is Revolutionizing the IT Industry” session included the following panelists: Jim Anderson, founder, president and CEO, Urban Science; Henry Balanon, co-founder, Detroit Labs; Jen Todd Gray, vice president of marketing and creative services, ePrize; and Joey Grover, software engineer and mobile technology lead, Livio; Zafar Razzacki, account executive, Google Inc. Matt Roush, technology editor for WWJ Newsradio 950, moderated the session.

Session panelists focused their discussion on the Detroit region’s growing IT sector, highlighting the opportunities helping technology businesses leverage talent in and to the region. They each shared successful company practices and benefits that have helped to bring on young talent from surrounding collegiate networks as well as the weight of Detroit’s growing reputation as a vibrant, innovative city. This session was sponsored by Comcast Business Class.

Business Process Maps Unveiled, Mayor Bing Discusses State of City

Detroit Regional Chamber President and CEO Sandy K. Baruah took the stage after lunch today in order to present the Walsh College and Business Services Network process maps. These maps are a direct result of the 2012 Mackinac Policy Conference To-Do List. The maps are simple graphic representations of commonly used city processes that to help guide businesses navigate city requirements. This set of maps focuses on permit processes including obtaining a business license, special events, signage, outdoor patio space, new construction and renovation construction.

Following Baruah’s presentation of the process maps, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing took the stage to discuss the state of business in Detroit. Mayor Bing discussed his hopes for the city now and moving into the future. He also highlighted his successful relationship with the federal government and his plans to continue to advocate for Detroit at the White House. To watch the video of Mayor Bing’s speech, click here. This session was sponsored by KPMG.

Top Media Minds Examine 2013 Election Landscape, State of the City

At a critical time in Detroit’s history and redevelopment, some of the area’s top media voices gathered to discuss the 2013 election landscape and the transition to a council by district system in Detroit. Panelists included Nolan Finley, editorial page editor for The Detroit News; Mildred Gaddis, host of WCHB’s “Inside Detroit;” Stephen Henderson, editorial page editor for the Detroit Free Press; and moderator Vince Keenan, founder and president of Publius.org.

The panelists engaged in a lively discussion over the impending possibility of an emergency manager appointment and that person’s perceived role and possible impact on the city’s redevelopment. They then moved into dissecting the changing role of council members under the new council by districts system. The group also discussed the upcoming mayoral race and the impact an emergency manger will have on the candidates.

Chamber’s Detroit Policy Conference Looks at City’s Economic Resurgence

From CBS Detroit

February 28, 2013

By Matt Roush

DETROIT — While Detroit’s city government teeters on the brink, Detroiters — particularly young new Detroiters — are busy building successful businesses and whole new neighborhoods of residences where empty, blighted buildings stood before.

Their stories provided inspiration for more than 600 of Detroit’s government, business and community leaders Thursday at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s 2013 Detroit Policy Conference, held at the Motor City Casino Hotel.

Technology Report editor Matt Roush moderated the session on the region’s growing tech sector, “Outpacing Silicon Valley: How Detroit is Revolutionizing the IT Industry.”

Panelists described how they work closely with Michigan colleges and universities to keep highly trained talent in the state, and how they kept pitching their business ideas until they achieved funding and success.

Panelists included tech veteran Jim Anderson, founder, president and CEO of Detroit-based Urban Science, which pretty much invented the science of geographic information systems, translating computer data onto maps to help retailers — specifically automakers — use demographic data to decide where to put their next store. Anderson’s company, founded in 1977, now has more than 800 employees worldwide.

Henry Balanon, co-founder of Detroit Labs, talked about how his company has grown to 32 employees building mobile apps for some of the biggest names in industry, with funding from Detroit Venture Partners, the venture firm owned in part by Detroit entrepreneurs Dan Gilbert and Josh Linkner.

Jen Todd Gray, vice president of marketing and creative services at the interactive promotions firm Linkner founded, Pleasant Ridge-based ePrize, talked about how her company starts bringing in students to show them tech-based careers as young as elementary school, and continues through high school and college co-op students.

Joey Grover, software engineer and mobile technology lead at Ferndale-based Livio, talked about how his company is bringing Internet radio to the automobile. And Zafar Razzacki, account executive in the Ann Arbor office of Google Inc., talked about how his company is building online marketing campaigns for the biggest of the Fortune 500, straight out of southeast Michigan.

Panelists agreed that Detroiters often sell the region short as a place to live and enjoy a rewarding tech career.

Other highlights of the event included:

  • Chamber president and CEO Sandy K. Baruah explained Charter One bank’s Growing Communities program, which provides microgrants to vendors and farmers at Eastern Market who then use the funds to grow their businesses. The program’s participants provided the lunches and snacks served at the event.
  • Baruah also presented to the city process maps of how to accomplish various business tasks, developed by Walsh College. Part of the to-do list of the chamber’s 2012 Mackinac Policy Conference, the maps offer simple graphic representations of city processes commonly tackled by businesses to make them easier for businesses to complete — everything from getting a business license to getting approval for signs or outdoor restaurant space.
  • Matt Cullen, president and CEO of Gilbert’s holding company Rock Ventures, talked up “the other side of the story” of Detroit, investments and redevelopments made by Rock Ventures in downtown Detroit, where the company has purchased more than a dozen major buildings. Cullen spoke of rental housing and office space shortages downtown, certainly not the kind of press downtown usually gets. And he said design plans are beginning for the site of the former Hudson’s department store.
  • Urban policy expert Richard Florida, who recently wrote online that downtown Detroit’s new urban community is bigger than other cities that get much better press, offered his customary praise to the creative class, which is the economic group he says is responsible for making urban areas vibrant. Florida last year created a five-part video series titled “Detroit Rising.”
  • Another morning keynote stressed the importance of preserving Detroit’s great institutional assets, from the Cobo convention center to the Detroit Institute of Arts to riverfront parks to airports.
  • Detroit Mayor Dave Bing offered cautionary optimism about the city, reiterating no less than five times that “It’s time to change the conversation about Detroit.” He urged Detroiters to be ambassadors for their hometown, not its harshest critics.

‘Creative Class’ author Richard Florida: Region should stop blaming Detroit

From MLive.com

February 28, 2013

By Khalil AlHajal

DETROIT, MI — Richard Florida, author of “The Rise of the Creative Class” gushed over the city’s Downtown-area growth and urged regional transit development in a speech at the Detroit Policy Conference on Thursday.

Florida was the morning keynote speaker in the conference being held at Motor City Casino Hotel.

He said 35 percent of the Detroit-area’s workforce is a part of what he calls the “creative class” – scientists, technologists, artists, designers, managers, health care and education workers – a larger portion than the national average.

He said that number is over 50 percent in parts of Detroit’s core Downtown-area, and up to 75 to 80 percent in some suburban areas. Ann Arbor, he said, ranks fifth nationally in creative class concentration.

“But it’s not enough,” he said. “One of the key things we have to do forward, is lift up everyone and understand that creativity not only come from the great software engineer, the great information technologist, the musician who’s made it. But it comes from – what place knows this better — it comes from the bottom, it comes from working class kids.”

He said transit, diversity, service industry innovation and nurturing urban spaces with vibrant street life are key to spreading the success of the creative economy in Detroit.

“There’s much you’ve accomplished here — a city whose Downtown comeback is amazing,” he said. “You need to connect this region’s hubs of activity through a transit strategy.

“… You need to cooperate as a region. The city-suburb thing has to go away. If I hear it again in the suburbs, I’m going to start screaming… I blame the suburbs. When you say the city is the problem. They’re not the problem. You’re the problem.”

Gilbert seeks ideas for developing Hudson’s site in Detroit

From the Detroit Free Press

February 28, 2013

By JC Reindl, 

Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert is planning an international design competition to solicit ideas for redeveloping the site of the former Hudson’s department store in downtown Detroit.

Matt Cullen, president of Rock Ventures, the real estate arm of Gilbert’s business interests, revealed the plan this morning during a presentation on current and future “Live, Work, and Play” vision for the city at the Detroit Policy Conference in the MotorCity Casino-Hotel.

More details will come in several weeks when the contest is formally announced, Cullen said.

A new building with ground floor retail and residential units on higher floors is one possibility, Cullen said, noting the nearly 100% occupancy rate for recent residential developments in downtown.

The 25-story Hudson’s building at 1206 Woodward took up an entire city block and was once the second-largest department store in the world. “It is an iconic site,” Cullen said.

The store closed in 1983 and, on Oct. 24, 1998, the building was explosively imploded before a gathering of about 50,000 spectators.

There is currently a parking structure underneath the site. The property is controlled by the city of Detroit, and Gilbert’s Rock Ventures received a time extension on Wednesday from the state’s Michigan Strategic Fund to come up with development plans for a renaissance zone there with multiple tax breaks.

Gilbert is willing to spend up to $75 million.

“We’re reaching the point where new construction will make a lot of sense for residential because there is such demand,” Cullen said.

Cullen also said that Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures expects to hire 2,000 workers during the next 12 to 18 months and hopes to bring 1,000 young interns to Detroit this summer.

Urban theorist Richard Florida, author of the influential “Rise of the Creative Class,” gave a conference presentation on the economic benefits to harnessing the potential of the many knowledge workers living in the metro Detroit.

Quantifying Downtown Detroit’s Comeback

From The Atlantic Cities

February 20, 2013

By Richard Florida

When people talk about the resurgence of urban America — the shift of people, jobs and commerce back to downtowns and center cities — they’re usually talking about a narrow group of elite cities like New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Boston, and San Francisco.

That’s why a report [PDF] released this week on the transformation of downtown Detroit is so interesting. It documents the ongoing regeneration of a decent sized swath of the city’s urban core. Detroit’s Greater Downtown spans 7.2 square miles (reflected in the title of the report). It runs across the city’s riverfront*  from the central business district to trendy Corktown, home of Slows Bar B Q and Astro Coffee; Mies van der Rohe’s verdant Lafayette Park and Rivertown, north to the Eastern Market, Detroit’s farmer’s market; the Cass Corridor, with arts institutions; Midtown, home to Wayne State University, up Woodward Avenue to Tech Town and New Center.

The report draws on new and unique data from local surveys as well as national data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and other national sources. It is the product of a partnership between the the Hudson-Webber Foundation, the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, the Downtown Detroit Partnership, Midtown Detroit, Inc., D:hive, and Data Driven Detroit.

The Greater Downtown corridor has a population of 36,550 people or 5,076 people per square mile. It might not be not downtown Manhattan, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, or Philadelphia, but it compares favorably to other Midwest city-centers, like downtown Minneapolis, with 3.4 square miles and 28,811 people; downtown Pittsburgh at 1.3 square miles and 4,064 people; and downtown Cleveland at 3.2 square miles and 9,523 people. Of these downtowns, only Minneapolis has greater density than Greater Downtown Detroit.

Greater Downtown forms the Detroit region’s commercial, educational, and entertainment hub home to major higher ed, arts and cultural institutions, its football and baseball stadiums and hockey arena, and several hundred restaurants, bars and retails shops. Each year, 10.5 million people visit the Greater Downtown area, according to the report.

While Greater Downtown is more affluent than the city as a whole, it lags behind other urban centers. The average per capita income of Greater Downtown residents is $20,216, considerably higher than $15,062 for the city as a whole but behind the nation ($27,334) as well as other urban centers like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Residents of Greater Downtown are also more educated than the city as a whole (see table below). College educated residents between the ages of 25 and 34 made up eight percent of the population for Greater Downtown compared to just one percent for the city as a whole, three percent for the state of Michigan, and four percent for the nation. More than four in ten young adults (42 percent) in Greater Downtown were college-educated, compared to 11 percent for the city, and higher than both the state and national rates of 29 and 31 percent, respectively.

Still, one of the most interesting findings from the report is that Greater Downtown is considerably more racially diverse than the city as a whole.

Even in the fabled Motor City, downtown’s regeneration is being driven at least in part by people looking to live more sensibly and efficiently, with less dependence on the car. The report highlights this trend providing the results of a survey of pedestrian and cycling activity across Greater Downtown’s six main districts.

As in other cities, Detroit’s downtown urban transformation has surfaced a variety of issues. This past summer, Karen Dumas, former press secretary to Mayor Dave Bing, asked if Detroit was losing its fabled grit and becoming too suburban, highlighting the tensions arising with the influx of new, more affluent residents. “On one hand, you see a ‘new’ Detroit. Young, white, educated and employed are the characteristics of those who are taking a chance on the city. They stand in stark contrast to native Detroiters — most of whom are African-Americans and many who are undereducated and unemployed — who have stayed and stuck it out over the years, through challenge and controversy.”

And while Greater Downtown has seen considerable process, large swaths of the city remain terribly distressed. “We’re a long way from gentrification,” Kurt Metzger, director of Data Driven Detroit, the source of much of the data for the report, told the Detroit Free Press.

I will be looking in more detail at these important issues in the upcoming Detroit installment of my ongoing series on America’s class-divided cities.

Engaging in Detroit’s Transformation

The Detroit Policy Conference invites key business leaders to discuss Detroit’s comeback

Page 43

An entrepreneurial spirit and a holistic approach to regional collaboration are keys to growth and revitalization in a changing economic environment. The Detroit Regional Chamber is taking a hands-on approach to spurring a thriving business and investment climate in the Detroit region by gathering influencers, legislative leaders and innovative thinkers together for a day of discussion and new ideas during the 2013 Detroit Policy Conference.

The inaugural 2012 Conference was a major success, bringing in more than 400 dynamic entrepreneurs, small business owners, major corporations and civic partners to engage in conversation on Detroit’s transformation. This year will be no different as the Chamber will once again host a day dedicated to Detroit’s continued comeback.

The 2013 Detroit Policy Conference will be held at the MotorCity Casino Hotel on February 28, 2013, and will showcase Detroit’s continued transformation by inviting key decision-makers who are leading Detroit’s comeback to share their expertise and inspire innovative solutions that encourage urban revitalization.

Conference attendees will gain an increased awareness of what’s happening in the Detroit region and how the business climate looks, make connections to people who are currently making things happen and learn how they can engage and be a part of the continued transformation taking place.

“Once again, this Conference is going to showcase the business argument for Detroit – directly from the mouths of our business owner,” said Emily Doerr, the small business and urban initiatives manager for the Detroit Regional Chamber. “More people are moving to the city, opening businesses in the city and finding ways to invest in the city, and the city government itself is becoming more business friendly. Detroit is open for business.”

Joining the Conference as one of several notable keynote speakers is author and well known “urbanist” Richard Florida, who recently completed a five-part video series, titled “Detroit Rising,” focused on the Motor City and the importance of looking at development through entrepreneurial eyes.

Florida is renowned for his knowledge of urban planning and will add an enlightening perspective to the Conference agenda, which focuses on policies that promote innovation and investment in Detroit-based businesses while positioning the city to attract the talent and entrepreneurship needed for the city to flourish into a prosperous urban center.

In addition to hearing from esteemed national speakers, attendees will gain knowledge and access that will help them power Detroit and the business community during an action-packed agenda centered on the city’s growth.

“Dr. Florida will offer insight and inspiration on creative ways 21st century businesses can innovate to reach new consumers, attract today’s talent and be a part of Detroit’s rising as a vibrant urban center of a flourishing region,” Doerr said.

In order to power Southeast Michigan and Detroit’s economy, the Chamber continually commits to helping urban and suburban businesses engage in opportunities to grow or make an impact in Detroit while staying connected to city hall and working to help Mayor Dave Bing on special initiatives.

The Chamber has also been working to put one of the 2012 Mackinac Policy Conference To-Do List items into action efforts to help regional Detroit businesses cut through local government red tape in the city.

To learn more about the 2013 Detroit Policy Conference, visit the Events page.

The Future of Detroit


From The Atlantic Cities
June 12, 2012

“If you think of a place that was close to death and is now entering into a new life, that’s Detroit. Why does that happen? Well there’s great space available, there’s affordability. But cities attract different people … Detroit is a place where anything goes. It’s a place that’s open to people.” — Richard Florida

In April, Cities readers sent in their questions and ideas on the current state of Detroit and where it’s heading. Over the last several weeks, Atlantic Senior Editor Richard Florida has led a conversation on the future of the Motor City. This is the fifth and final installment.

The Businesses That Will Lead Detroit


From The Atlantic Cities
June 5, 2012

“If you want to rebuild a neighborhood, you’re a lot better off starting with stuff people eat and drink. Movie theaters, fine, baseball stadiums great. But where people really want to go is to find places to eat and drink.” — Richard Florida

In April, Cities readers sent in their questions and ideas on the current state of Detroit and where it’s heading. Over the last several weeks, Atlantic Senior Editor Richard Florida has led a conversation on the future of the Motor City. This is the fourth installment.

The Faces Behind Detroit’s Rebirth


From The Atlantic Cities
May 29, 2012

“In addition to all the interesting business stuff that’s beginning to happen, [Detroit’s downtown] now has the infrastructure, it has the buildings” to attract businesses like Twitter. – Richard Florida

Last month, Cities readers sent in their questions and ideas on the current state of Detroit and where it’s heading. Over the next several weeks, Atlantic Senior Editor Richard Florida responds by leading a conversation on the future of the Motor City.

Detroit’s Creative Potential


From The Atlantic Cities
May 22, 2012

“I think what Detroit offers is for young people or interesting people or engaged people — artists, innovators, musicians, designers, city-builders, place-makers — it offers something for them, and it doesn’t have to advertise.” — Richard Florida

Last month, Cities readers sent in their questions and ideas on the current state of Detroit and where it’s heading. Over the next several weeks, Atlantic Senior Editor Richard Florida responds by leading a conversation on the future of the Motor City. This is the second installment. Watch the first episode here.