Plans to bring more people to the city highlight Transformation Detroit

Wayne State University President Gilmour at #TransformD

Day one of the Transformation Detroit Media Briefing is in the books. Panel discussions on the auto industry and the efforts to attract people to live and work in Detroit were highlighted.

Bringing more people to Detroit is a major goal at Wayne State University, Henry Ford Health Systems and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) … and they have plans to get it done. Allan Gilmour, president of Wayne State University, Robert Riney, president and COO of Henry Ford Health System, and Tricia Keith, vice president, corporate secretary and services for BCBSM each noted the success they experienced in attracting employees to Midtown Detroit.

Wayne State and Henry Ford Health Systems, along with the Detroit Medical Center are part of the Live Midtown project, which is aimed at getting employees to move to Midtown or stay here. There are incentives. New renters receive a $2,500 allowance of funding toward the cost of their apartment in the first year followed by additional funding of $1,000.00 for the second year. Existing renters receive a $1,000 allowance of funding for renewing a lease in 2011. New homeowners receive a $20,000 forgivable loan toward the purchase of their primary residence if taken one-time, OR $25,000 at the rate of $5,000 per year if taken over 5 years. Existing homeowners receive matching funds of up to $5,000 for exterior improvements for projects of $10,000 or more.

Wayne State has already approved 28 people for the financial incentives offered to move to Midtown, and Henry Ford Health Systems has approved 72.  The challenge is finding space for all those interested in moving. Rinney pointed out that there has been a lack of available apartments. That’s causing many owners in the district to quickly convert their properties to accommodate demand.

For its part Blue Cross Blue Shield began relocating about 3,000 of its employees from a suburban office complex to the Renaissance Center earlier this year and will bring another 3,000 into the city by year end.

Keith said the worst fears BCBSM leadership had about employees leaving the company were not realized. Employee surveys have shown a 92 percent satisfaction rate with the move.  One of the side effects of the move has been businesses staying in the city to support BCBSM from the Detroit Development Center at Strategic Staffing Solutions to the deli located in the 500 tower of the Ren Cen.

A frank discussion about the overall health of the auto industry was kicked off by Michael Robinet, director, Global Production Forecasting, IHS Automotive.  He acknowledged that the earthquake in Japan has created a negative impact on automotive sales across the board and that the Japanese currency exchange rates make it difficult for their automakers to remain competitive.  And the impact of emerging markets on the automakers is beginning to be felt.

“We need to start building smaller vehicles not only because of consumers but also because of government regulation and global markets,” he noted.

Tim Nasso, senior adviser to the president on economic development, Detroit Regional Chamber/MICHauto, highlighted the changed focus of the chamber toward economic development.  He said the priorities they are working toward now are regional collaboration, economic development and education reform.

“It’s not about the chamber anymore, it’s about Detroit,” he stated.

Afterward, journalists were able to break bread with other journalists and members of the community at Pegasus restaurant in Greektown.  Conversations about the who, what, when, why and how of Detroit’s transformation could be heard around the restaurant. Today (Tuesday) they’ll spend the day listening to Mayor Bing and Police Chief Godbee and checking out Midtown for themselves.

Note: Make sure to follow the #TransformD hashtag on Twitter to see (and contribute) to the real time conversation.


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