Last week was a busy week for Detroit. There’s no reason to rehash it, but would like to share some thoughts on where we go from here.
Normally, this column focuses on small business development and its role in Detroit’s revitalization.
However, after seeing the recent dynamics, I believe it’s time for this region to come together and focus on making this city and region a better place to live and do business.
Generally, the national news coverage is not favorable about Detroit and last week was no exception. In light of the most recent news, many national pundits and publications are taking swipes at this area again.
The irony is as I travel around the country, there is surprisingly a “buzz” about Detroit and how entrepreneurs and other investors are beginning to notice. That’s positive.
Additionally, a New York-based advertising agency read my recent blog on branding Detroit and has an interest in helping this “…important American city…” develop a brand proposition focused on its future.
However, it seems, at times, we’re our own worst enemy. Yes, Detroit’s in transition — foundationally and structurally.
Change is hard to deal with — but, successful change starts within. I believe it’s critically important for this region to come together and deal with collective issues in a reasonable manner. Let’s stop the rhetoric, deal in reality and come up with viable solutions which are well thought out, collaborative and practical.
It’s time to stop the finger-pointing or using scare tactics to drive good ideas and people away. Be it as it may, but Detroit is a major market and when there’s news here, in some cases, it becomes national and international news and, ultimately, it drives the overall perceptions of our collective brand — city, suburban and out state. That’s just the reality.
Other great cities have dealt with similar issues. Chicago, Pittsburgh and New York, for example, have had fiscal, urban and other-related issues — particularly, Pittsburgh. Once a steel dependent city has now transformed itself into a healthcare and educational destination. And now, young people are beginning to relocate to Pittsburgh. Who would have thought that 10 years ago? But, it’s happening.
Detroit’s no different.
With continued and projected population declines, the city is not raising revenue due to a smaller tax base but must continue to maintain 139 square miles of infrastructure which once housed nearly 2 million people.
When revenues decline while costs maintain or increase, the fundamental business model must change and, in this case, Detroit, like Pittsburgh, must deal with it head on.
To wit, Detroit’s population has plummeted from 1.5 million in 1970 to approximately 720,000 citizens today — meaning, there needs to be a restructuring of city services and expenses to support yes, a smaller city.
Let’s accept this fact as reality. Detroit needs to operate as a smaller, efficient but viable city. If it doesn’t change, quite frankly, this city/region will be on life support.
Existing public policies, or those used in the past, simply will not work as evidenced by the predicament we’re currently in. Simply put, borrowing to offset debt is not a good plan — unless, there’s a strategy in place to deal with the existing debt—particularly, when revenue is stagnant and/or declining.
So, what can we do?
Based on my travels across all parts of the country, here are my thoughts on what makes successful cities desirable for investment and growth:
- Regional Cooperation: In regions like Chicago, Orlando and Tampa, it’s amazing what you see when the city and suburban areas do work together. I’m sure there’s some regional conflict; however, it appears there’s tonality of conciliation and doing what’s best for the entire area.
- Making Tough Choices: Other cities around the country have made tough choices based on economic realities and once you make a decision, not everyone will support it. However, it’s time for Detroit to swallow these tough pills if it’s going to ensure its longer-term viability.
- Budget Crisis: Let’s be real — Detroit’s in a budget crisis. Based on certain estimates, the city continues to lose residents at a clip of 10k people of year. If this trend continues and appropriate financial decisions are not implemented, further disaster awaits.
I was born and raised in this city and really love it — but, it pains me to see its decline. In my lifetime, I remember what is was and now, I’m hopeful and believe in its new potential.
However, we won’t achieve it if we continue the infighting which has become all too common in this great city and metropolitan area.
Detroit is an iconic, international brand and, if we’re not careful, this American city’s future becomes endangered. While we can’t recapture its glorious past, we can be hopeful for and shape its future—but, only if we work together.
Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work!