Detroit’s Assets

We spend all of our time bashing the city of Detroit, we forget that it has assets to build from. Three of the most important are Wayne State University, the Henry Ford Health System and the Detroit Medical Center. Tom Walsh in a recent Free Press column calls them Detroit’s new big three. Likely the most important engine to the revitalization of the city.

As Walsh points out they are the city’s three largest non governmental employers. And growing – adding employees and making big investments in their campuses. Health care and higher education are growth industries across the country.  They are a major part of the knowledge-based economy that Michigan and metro Detroit needs to grow to return to high prosperity.  It’s a hard lesson for Michigan to learn but health care and education are key growth sectors – not drags on the economy.

Beyond their direct economic impact on the city the three institutions – in part because of their close proximity to one another in Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood – will be key drivers of creating the kind of urban neighborhoods that the city needs to retain and attract young talent. They are working with the Hudson-Webber Foundation and other funders on a comprehensive strategy to attract 15,000 additional young professionals to the area by 2015. That would roughly double the number of young professionals living in the city.

It’s not pie in the sky. As Walsh points out they are working with a team from Philadelphia that was involved in the transformation of the West Philadelphia neighborhood led by the University of Pennsylvania. Walsh quotes Omar Blaik the team leader: “The ingredients are here. Now we’ve got to cook the dish. … While everybody is looking at Detroit today and saying, ‘Oh, thank God we are not Detroit,’ I say many people in America are going to wake up 10 years from now surprised that Detroit is rewriting the new chapter of what an American city looks like.”

If he’s right it will boost not just the city but the entire state. A vibrant Detroit is an essential ingredient in recreating a high prosperity Michigan.

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