Since 2002, George W. Jackson, Jr.’s “fingerprints of success” can be found on many major projects and initiatives that have greatly transformed and improved the downtown, Midtown and neighborhood sectors of Detroit. As president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC), Jackson has negotiated and brokered multiple deals that can be described in billions of dollars, especially when past, present and future economic windfalls to the city are factored.
On Monday, March 31, Jackson will resign from his post as the city’s development chief after a remarkable 12-year stint, much of which has been amid unprecedented economic distressed times in Detroit. Yet, despite the challenges that have faced the Motor City, Jackson has amassed an impressive portfolio of accomplishments that has helped Detroit and its citizenry begin to move forward.
While space won’t allow the listing of all of Jackson’s achievements through DEGC, one of the most notable is his negotiation acumen that led to the investment of almost $200 million to restore the famed downtown Book-Cadillac Hotel (now Westin Book Cadillac) after the historic landmark set vacant, neglected and was a eyesore for decades. Other projects have included Jackson’s leadership role in convincing Quicken Loans to move its world headquarters and hundreds of jobs downtown; his lead role with the Lower Woodward Improvement Program that esthetically prepared downtown for the 2006 Super Bowl XL; his vital negotiations that led to the demolishment of several longstanding silos from defunct cement companies along the Detroit River, in order to literally pave the way for the development of the now famous RiverWalk; and his negotiations that ultimately led to the $279 million renovation of Cobo Center that guaranteed a stronger and longer commitment to keep the North American International Auto Show at the downtown location.
For Jackson, success was often accompanied with voices of distractors who believed his leadership hasn’t always served the best interests of Detroiters. Many in opposition point most recently to the proposed downtown hockey arena, believing that Jackson, under the auspices of DEGC, simply gave away prime downtown property worth millions of dollars for only $1 in order for a hockey arena to be erected for the Detroit Red Wings. “I don’t see how people believe that this is a losing proposition for the city of Detroit,” said Jackson. “We’re talking about the eventuality of thousands of jobs, all paying City of Detroit income tax. I assure you over the lifetime of this arena, it will generate a lot more than the value of the land that the city supposedly ‘gave away’ for a dollar.”
While it appears that all DEGC-Jackson-led achievements have been downtown, or in Midtown, according to Jackson, there is a great misconception. “Most of the projects that we are involved in are outside of downtown and Midtown,” he said. “It seems that downtown projects get all the media attention because of projects such as building a downtown arena. However, we do a lot of work with industrial, manufacturing and other types of businesses out in the neighborhoods.”
Jackson cited the new Gateway Marketplace Shopping Center on Eight Mile Rd. at Woodward, which is the largest retail development in Detroit in four decades. The shopping complex is anchored by Meijer. Jackson said that another Meijer is slated to be built on the former west side site of the Redford High School. Jackson also said that DEGC engages in problem and issue solving activities with at least 200 businesses each year, most of which are outside of downtown.
As a native Detroiter, Jackson remembers the grand days when downtown was bustling with shoppers and the neighborhoods where clean, vibrant and stable. After graduating from Cooley High School in Detroit, he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in human resource development from Oakland University and a master’s degree in business management from Central Michigan University.
While Jackson had educational credentials to work in any major city in America, he chose to dedicate his life and career to making his hometown a better place for citizens, businesses, and visitors. Prior to his leadership role with Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, Jackson was the director of customer marketing for DTE Energy where he worked for 27 years. He is credited with orchestrating innovative and forward-thinking economic development programs and initiatives that garnered the company national recognition and honors.
With so many years of accomplishments that have benefited the city of Detroit under the auspices of DEGC, some people are wondering why Jackson is retiring. “I’ve been talking about retirement for a long time,” he said. “I’m 61 years old. At this point in my life, I want more flexibility and freedom to do some other things.”
When asked about whether he was being pushed out by the new administration, the single father of three adult sons responded, “It’s not a push out at all. I do think the new administration has its own people ready to come in with new ideas. However, it was up to me to decide if I wanted to continue at this point in time. It was my decision in the end to resign and work in other capacities to help the city.”
Jackson intimated that once he leaves DEGC, he will form a private consulting and development firm in Detroit as his ongoing commitment to elevate Detroit. He is also adamant about remaining on the executive committee of the Downtown Partnership, chairman of the board of Eastern Market Corporation, chairman for the Greater Detroit Foreign Trade Zone, Inc., and steering committee chair of Detroit Future City. “I love this city,” said Jackson. “I see tremendous opportunities here and will continue to support its revitalization, but in a new role. I had a tremendous run at DEGC, working with great companies here and from around the world.
Now it’s time to return to my roots in the private sector. However, I look forward to working with great partners as we continue to transform Detroit into a leader of innovative urban redevelopment. Detroit is on the cusp of a great comeback regarding quality of city services and an improved quality of life for all Detroiters.”
His thoughts on his legacy with DEGC and his vision for the city?
“I hope that people will see me as a person who played a critical role in the transition of Detroit to make it a better and more livable city,” he said. “I also hope, particularly as an African American, that I and other African Americans and the roles that we have played will be acknowledged as it relates to moving the city of Detroit forward.
“I really look forward to true African-American owned companies in Detroit having bigger roles in the economic growth and opportunities that are available now and in the future.”