Last week I attended Gov. Rick Snyder’s press conference where he, along with several of not only Detroit’s, but Michigan’s most powerful business and political leaders came together to watch him sign pieces of legislation that will benefit the city. It was a good day for Detroit.
The governor signed bills for the Regional Transit Authority, Detroit Lighting Authority, Downtown Development Authority and the Eastern Market.
I was proud.
As protesters marched and shouted, all I could think about was the estimated 25,000 people who are going to be hired over the next few years, in addition to the millions of dollars that is going to be spent on construction, maintenance and vendor contracts – almost $1 billion in investments.
Yet at the same time, there was a part of me wondering if Detroiters would actually have a legitimate seat at the table as the deals are worked out and people are hired.
While we complain about the day-to-day nuisances that have plagued our city – high unemployment, possible bankruptcy, blight, crime and subpar public education — our suburban brethren are moving back to town in droves.
They see what I see — a diamond in the rough, an underperforming but valuable asset. In fact, there are approximately 10,000 new employees working downtown.
The business community is doubling down as if the city were a great stock that took a tumble and investing in the incredible value of this great city of ours. All of this is “great stuff” and from my vantage point, we have to embrace the change and find a way to participate in it.
We can’t just make a fuss from the sidelines and throw rocks at the players on the field. We have an obligation to ask smart questions and make suggestions. We also have a responsibility to challenge our business and political leaders and hold them accountable for training and hiring people here in Detroit. Ultimately, this should also be about more than jobs; it should be about ownership and entrepreneurial opportunities as well.
I am very pleased with the resurgence of Midtown and downtown Detroit and Midtown, the ongoing Riverfront developments, what Pete Karmanos and Mike Illitch have meant to this town, Dan Gilbert’s buying spree and the many shops and restaurants popping up.
These are good people doing their part, but it won’t be enoughto spur a true renaissance if the job and contracting opportunities do not benefit the everyday folk in Detroit. That’s not divisive talk or setting up an “us versus them” debate, that’s just real talk.
Furthermore, we have been very supportive of the governor and the corporate community, who have worked very hard to bring Detroit back from the brink of non-relevance. Despite everything, Detroit is headed in the right direction and we need to keep it that way. We have to move ahead, figure out what everyone agrees on and negotiate the differences.
So, as publisher of the Michigan Chronicle, I am calling for Detroiters not to be distracted by the endless stream of negative news that comes from the mainstream media or the divisive politics that sometimes comes out of Lansing.
That is just the sideshow. But keep your eyes on the slow but substantive change that is happening in Detroit and embrace it.
Let’s stay focused on how we as Detroiters can prepare ourselves to directly participate in the economic opportunities that will be coming our way.
If Detroit is to be a world-class city again, we need to find a way to improve the lives of everyone here.
Detroit, the train is leaving the station. But the good news is that if we position ourselves correctly, we can catch it and help lead it back to greatness. But to do this, we need a seat at the table.
Hiram E. Jackson is the publisher of the Michigan Chronicle and CEO of Real Times Media.