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04 Jun. 2019 | Comments (0)

For many, Detroit evokes cars and music, but the city has been slow to recover from its bankruptcy in 2013. It’s now starting to gain ground. The Conference Board’s Corporate Social Responsibility Council met in Detroit in early May to learn more about its revival. 

In the 1800s, Detroit became an important industrial hub at the center of the Great Lakes region, which paved the way for the automobile industry in the early 1900s. By 1950, Detroit’s population was 1.85 million, making it the fourth largest city in the US. Today, however, its population is 675,000, making it 23rd largest. In the years between 1950 and 2019, industry left and people followed. The City of Detroit filed for bankruptcy in 2013, paving the way for the restructuring it needed to revive.  

After a previous visit to Detroit in the late 2000s, when the city was approaching its nadir, the council’s three-day visit in May gave members a unique view of how business, working with foundations, government, nonprofits, and civic groups, are reimaging the Detroit of the future. And the results are evident, but there is a long way to go.

The future of Detroit is directed in large part by Detroit Future City (DFC). DFC is a nonprofit charged with implementing its Strategic Framework, a 50-year vision for the city, developed with input from more than 100,000 Detroiters. Through the shared vision of the Strategic Framework, DFC is committed to advancing the quality of life for all Detroiters. The organization will accomplish this in partnership with residents, and public and private stakeholders, and through data-driven strategies that promote the advancement of land use and sustainability, and community and economic development.

Data has been critical to planning Detroit’s revival and two initiatives are driving this effort:

  • Detroit’s Open Data Portal “fosters and creates a more transparent, open, collaborative, participatoryand accountable relationship between the citygovernment and the people it serves, fostering a creative culture and innovation-driveneconomy. Increasing the public’s access to high quality, accurate data and information is critical to this mission and will also improve business functions and prepare for future innovations in city operations. 
  • Data Driven Detroit provides accessible high-quality information and analysis to drive informed decision-making. Their vision is that essential and unbiased information is used by all.The two entities often work together to help those in need of quality data quicken their efforts without them having to commission their own studies. 

Detroit’s corporate involvement

Corporations have always been an important part of Detroit and that continues through the city’s renaissance. In 2010, Dan Gilbert and his company, Rock Ventures, moved 1,700 employees into Detroit. Today, they have 17,000 employees in the city, own 90 downtown buildings and have about 100 businesses that are stimulating growth, including the headquarters of their Quicken Loans flagship business. Quicken Loans Community Fund has developed a community-led tax foreclosure prevention effort called Neighbor to Neighbor, helping the most vulnerable residents stay in their homes.  

JPMorgan Chase has invested more than $150 million in blended capital in Detroit since 2013. Its model for impact is inclusive growth through jobs and skills, small business expansion, neighborhood revitalization, and financial health. Their investment includes philanthropic dollars, low-cost loans that leverage additional resources, and lending expertise though the company’s Service Corps.

One of Detroit’s longest-standing corporate residents is The Ford Motor Company. As part of its community outreach, the company operates two Ford Resource and Engagement Centers in the city. These community centers provide a place for people to meet, attain their GED, learn skills, find jobs, and provide food to area residents through their food pantries. The Ford Motor Company staffs the facility and its employee volunteers assist with various activities, including running the pantry.

There are countless examples of entrepreneurs moving into Detroit, starting businesses and being a part of the revival. We have seen companies start and grow in the city, such as Shinola, first with watches, then bikes and other products, and now a boutique hotel. We’ve also seen investors provide much-needed financial backing. For example, IMPACT3 invests in social enterprises in under-resourced communities, including Rebel Nell “with the mission to employ women facing barriers to employment in Detroit, educate them on financial management, life wellness and entrepreneurship, and empower them to transition to a life of independence.”

The corporate community has also stepped up to save the city’s treasured art collection. Through the Detroit Grand Bargain, a coalition of foundations, including Ford, Kresge, and Kellogg pledged $366 million over 20 years, along with a labor pledge to accept reduced benefits resulting in saving the art collection, reducing the debt and accelerating the recovery.

Detroit has many of the same problems that face urban areas everywhere, but in the Motor City they are magnified. Recovery models from other cities are being replicated here, while new initiatives are being innovated, and shared with others. This is a place where people are breaking barriers, or at least attempting to, but with problems of the magnitude that Detroit faces, collaboration is essential. Nonetheless, the spirit of Detroiters is strong and they are hopeful—the once shining city is beginning to sparkle again.

  • About the Author:Jeff Hoffman

    Jeff Hoffman

    Jeff Hoffman is an accomplished corporate executive who has served on the global stage. Through board and commission leadership roles, he has a distinguished history working with business, non-profit,…

    Full Bio | More from Jeff Hoffman


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