According to Detroit Economic Growth Corporation President George Jackson, Jr., Detroiters spend about $1.5 billion outside the city.
“When you have that type of buying power, how can you say this is not still an economically viable city?” Jackson asked. “Let’s take Whole Foods for example. Why did we incentivize Whole Foods? I know that’s been controversial, particularly with the independent grocers and the Chaldean community. But at the same time, I know a lot of people who live in Detroit. I don’t know one who says theybuy their groceries only within the city limits of Detroit.”
Jackson said market forces are such that people have to go outside the city because they can’t find all their shopping and retail needs in the city.
“The average customer who’s going to go to the Whole Foods in Detroit was not going to a local, independent grocer in Detroit,” Jackson said. “They were already going to Whole Foods. They were already going to Holiday Market. They were already going to Trader Joe’s, in spite of the fact you have the independent grocers here.”
This is because all the customers’ needs aren’t being met.
Jackson said the DEGC and Mayor Bing are working to bring some big box stores into the city. He cited Meijer and Walmart, and said those types of projects are progressing well.
He also said people who are coming in to the downtown, Midtown and Lafayette Park areas are highly educated and have money.
“They have large incomes, including the young professionals, and they buy things,” he said. “From that standpoint, that’s going to drive these markets even more.”
He added that if we put the housing in, the high quality retail will come.
“Now we know there is a demand,” he said, adding that he believes this demand will grow faster in certain pockets of Detroit than in suburbs “oversaturated” with housing. He said the desire for an urban lifestyle has hit Detroit.
“I think you’re going to find that the retail and other quality of life issues will surface as we grow this demographic that’s moving back into the city,” he said.
He noted that the DEGC helps businesses in economic and non-economic bases, and spends much time cutting red tape.
“A lot of times, I think you have situations where either people go to the wrong place, or a lot of times it’s unfair to the city. A lot of times people just didn’t get what they wanted.”
He said the DEGC’s job isn’t to give businesses what they want, but to give them what is proper, right, fair and makes sense from an economic and purely business respect.
The DEGC, he pointed out, is seriously and unashamedly pro business.
“We don’t just stop at what our normal charter is,” Jackson said. “We work with the company to help them through whatever they need to do to establish that business or grow that business in the city of Detroit,” Jackson said, adding that the DEGC calls on at least 250 businesses each year in the city. He calls them business retention calls, and said there are three elements: attraction, expansion and retention.
He also said when visiting those 250 businesses, the DEGC often finds their issues have nothing to do with economic development.
“A lot of them are dealing with city services,” he said. “So we will make that connection when we do those calls.”
Jackson said the DEGC calls the decision makers in the city, and lets them know how helping a business with a city service issue in turn helps the city with economic issues.
“That business feels a lot better about the city,” he said. “Also when that business, when they do expand or increase investment, is more inclined to do it in the city than if we had not resolved their service issue.”
He said the DEGC represents the best interests of Detroit and that it has to be a win/win.
Asked about the issue of getting businesses into Detroit and/or encouraging them to stay in the city, and misconceptions he hears from businesses, Jackson said there are a lot of inaccuracies with regard to people’s perception about the city, and everybody who works on the city’s behalf.
“One of the first things we do is we deal with that head-on, and let them know this is who we are and this is how we do business,” he said. “We just cut right to the chase.”
The DEGC makes perception issues a part of the presentation.
He also said the DEGC has gained a reputation among most fair-minded people that it is an extremely professional business.
“I can say that about my colleagues in this administration at this point in time, too,” he said. “I think that’s one of the things Mayor Bing has brought to the table — integrity.”
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