Detroit Is Showing the Rest of the Country How to Make a Comeback

Detroit Is Showing the Rest of the Country How to Make a Comeback
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Why you should care

Because there are many ways to turn a city around.  

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We live in an era in which the city, not the suburb, is exalted. America’s vibrant urban centers are seeing massive population surges as young professionals increasingly choose to live, work and line up for ramen within the same few square miles. In 2017, for instance, Seattle saw its population soar by 13 percent, while San Francisco grew by 10 percent. But numbers don’t always tell the full picture. Detroit, for instance, was one of the few cities that experienced a population decline in 2017. However, the Motor City’s story is still one of triumph.

Detroit’s primary goal over the past few years has been to transform the once-bankrupt city into a place where people want to live, work and play. So far, the city is on track to achieve this goal. Although Wayne County, which includes the City of Detroit, lost residents last year, the decline was minimal. According to the U.S. Census Bureau:

Population decline in Wayne County has slowed, hitting a two-decade low of 3,000 residents — compared to 36,000 in 2008.

In fact, Detroit has done such a great job of turning itself around, it is fast becoming a case study for other cities across the nation.

“There are a lot of factors at play,” notes Ray Waters, president of the nonprofit Detroit Development Fund (DDF), which has teamed up with JPMorgan Chase and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to bring economic opportunity to the city. He notes that taking on a more holistic approach to Detroit’s development has made a difference.

The Greening of Detroit is restoring the city’s tree infrastructure while training people for skilled jobs.

“It’s not just lending to businesses. JPMorgan Chase has gotten involved in the mortgage program to help more residents own homes. They’ve moved into education to help young residents. This broad approach has ripple effects.”

Detroit has taken a multifaceted approach to its own recovery. Some key areas of focus include:

Job training

Data is helping Detroit identify where demand is highest in the local labor market so the city can adjust workforce training accordingly. The Workforce Intelligence Network, a collaboration in southeast Michigan, tracks open jobs by location and industry and then feeds its findings to Detroit training programs. The Greening of Detroit, for example, is helping to restore the city’s tree infrastructure, while training people for skilled jobs in forestry, urban agriculture and landscaping. By analyzing workforce data, the nonprofit claims an 83 percent job placement rate. Such initiatives are having a positive effect on the city’s revival. According to the latest indicators, unemployment has nearly halved, and 8,000 more Detroiters are working now compared to this time last year.

Small businesses

When it comes to where Detroiters spend their money, they are strong believers in keeping it local. Given Detroiters preference for frequenting local mom-and-pops, the city’s small businesses should have been flourishing — yet they weren’t. One reason? Many minority-owned businesses were not receiving adequate startup funding. In response, JPMorgan Chase, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the DDF launched the Entrepreneurs of Color Fund (EOCF), which provides minority-owned companies with critical capital when they need it most.

Livable neighborhoods

With an estimated 91,000 vacant lots and 78,000 abandoned properties, Detroit’s mass exodus a decade ago took a toll on the city’s neighborhoods. Today, many of these formerly abandoned properties have been remodeled and are attracting people to the city. Take the Willys Overland development, for example, which turned an abandoned Midtown warehouse into a mixed residential and retail area. This area is now home to loft-style apartments and local companies like the Jolly Pumpkin craft brewery and the RUNDetroit athletic footwear store. This development, and others like it, has aided the transformation of Detroit’s downtown and encouraged residents to stay.

Although Detroit still has challenges to overcome, recovery and resilience seem to be built into the city’s DNA. The city has bounced back from the collapse of the auto industry and the Great Recession. The people here certainly act like they’re on an upward trajectory. In fact, according to POLITICO, Detroiters are spending locally at a greater rate than residents in any other U.S. city. And they’re just getting started.