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George Jackson of DEGC
League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin started out the morning general session talking about some of the initiatives the League is involved in on behalf of Michigan’s communities, reaching out to entities around the state, nation and world to help lead the conversation on placemaking as an economic development strategy. It’s why the League is involved in working with MSHDA on programs like PlacePlans, and a new aggressive legislative agenda called Partnership for Place. Government has gotten too involved in the economic decline of our state, he said. It’s also important to light a path out toward the future. The panel discussion on Detroit Redux is a case in point. More than 80 companies have located in Rock Ventures-owned buildings in downtown Detroit since August 2010. In 2012, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan moved nearly 4,000 workers into the landmark RenCen towers overlooking the historic Detroit River. At this morning’s general session we heard from several key figures in this exciting rebirth. The panel was moderated by George W. Jackson, Jr. of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation. The DEGC has led or played a key role in dozens of landmark projects including the Lower Woodward Improvement Program for Superbowl XL, and the transformation of the Detroit Riverfront from industrial to multi-use recreational, residential and commercial.Jackson said with so much economic development happening in Detroit, the bigger challenge is to get people to come to the city and see everything that’s being done, counter to the negative image perpetuated in the popular media. The bankruptcy is the gorilla, he said, but it is a long-overdue step that will put the city’s financial house in order and restructure the city’s ability to provide services.BCBSM President and CEO Dan Loepp joined in via video message talking about how the company is consolidating its workforce in downtowns across the state. Real estate broker Austin Black II of City Living Detroit specializes in properties located in Detroit with a focus on downtown, the growing riverfront, the cultural center, and the city's historic neighborhoods. Black, a Detroit native, said 8 years ago most of his clients were young professionals; that has now evolved to include empty nesters and families with kids who want to stay in the city. Occupancy rates in Detroit are now upwards of 97%.David Carroll of Quicken Loans is involved with all of Quicken Loans Detroit initiatives, including real estate acquisition and use, space planning, incentive programs, community affairs and government relations. Carroll said the company chose to come to Detroit because it was the best way to draw young talent, who want a vibrant urban lifestyle. Tax incentives were important, he said, but it wasn’t the big motivator for the move – if it had been just about the numbers, he said, the company would not have come.Andy Hetzel of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan said BCBSM has purposefully worked to consolidate the workforce in key urban centers because it’s a human benefit that’s good for their people. It’s created a lot of energy on their campus, he said, and that’s good for business.Gordon Krater of Plante Moran, which is now moving into Detroit’s Compuware building, said the decision to come to downtown Detroit was a confluence of factors. We are committed to Michigan, he said, and our clients and employees want to be part of an exciting urban environment like Detroit. In fact, they’ve had more employees volunteer to transfer to the new downtown Detroit office than they have space for. We know there are still many problems, he said, but we want to be part of the solution.
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