On this episode of the Economic Development podcast, Eric Larson, CEO of the Downtown Detroit Partnership, discusses Detroit’s comeback in the manufacturing sector as the industry pivoted for the production of personal protection equipment (PPE). Detroit is also seeing promising momentum in both the logistics sector and the technology fueling autonomous driving.
Detroit and the region continues to be at the epicenter of mobility and much of the automotive technology, and so we’re seeing Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors all make significant investments, not only economic development, but also in workforce training.
- 01:19 – Detroit’s automotive industry is making significant investments in economic development.
- 04:29 – The pandemic is revealing a new quality of life standard for cost of living and space, and Detroit offers that.
- 06:51 – Autonomous driving a fueling targeted industry growth for the city.
Eric Larson 00:00
Detroit had that opportunity to capture a number of individuals that have had the experience, you know, in the larger cities, especially on the west coast and really be able to promote a much sort of better quality of life while you’re still contributing to the overall economic expansion.
Fabiola Fleuranvil 00:34
This is Fabiola Fleuranvil with Blueprint Creative Group, we provide strategic communications counsel during times of opportunity, change and crisis and certainly as we’re coming out of this crisis, our main focus is on response and resiliency. So you’re tuning in to the Economic Development podcast and today I have the CEO of the downtown Detroit Partnership, Eric Larson.
Fabiola Fleuranvil 01:02
So what’s the business climate like these days in the city? I see a lot coming down from the top with the state authority and several economic development organizations around the state with the DEGC. So what’s the business climate like in Detroit?
Eric Larson 01:19
Yeah, I think it’s a lot like what’s happening across the country. And, you know, probably in two words, it may be a bit of an overstatement, but you know, things are on hold. You know, it’s a time where many of our larger employers are focusing on their plans to return to work thinking about how best to do that in good both the state but also productive way. And at the same time, we are seeing, interestingly, and so, I stay on hold and I guess that is a little bit of an overstatement because Detroit and the region continues to be very much at the epicenter of mobility and much of the automotive technology. And so we’re seeing Ford, Chrysler, GM, all make significant investment, not only economic development, but also workforce training. And so, I think in general, you know, the rest of the year we’ll have some positive [momentum]. But it’ll be, if it definitely will be conservative and it will be paced with the challenge of, just, you know, figuring out how best to get people back working.
Fabiola Fleuranvil 02:26
So as you mentioned, the automotive industry, certainly while we were in the midst of the virus, that was also your sector that rose to the occasion and started to pivot in the production of PPP. So have you seen other industries where you saw that they made that quick transition or otherwise just finding a different sweet spot for them to still remain sustainable during this time?
Eric Larson 02:51
Yeah, I think that’s one of the really interesting part of the aspect of our region near Detroit and you know, the Michigan region are very entrepreneurial in spirit. And so, with things like this, I mean, you harken back to when Detroit was the arsenal of democracy. Many of our manufacturing companies are able to pivot very quickly as you mentioned, and it wasn’t just the automotive. I mean, we have a wonderful new startup, Shinola Watch. And they came to Detroit and started manufacturing, you know, high quality watches in the city. They pivoted and started making PPE. So, a number of organizations did that, but also a number of organizations that weren’t necessarily in the manufacturing realm found ways to contribute.
So whether it was the foundations, the philanthropic community, stepping up and redirecting and loosening, sort of expediting some of their funding to key organizations. Also, you know, much of the corporate community also started to redirect some of their philanthropic funding to support some of the more social and community that were coming out of this pandemic.
Fabiola Fleuranvil 04:14
So, at a macro level now that you know, things are still on pause, there’s still some uncertainty with your organization. What does economic development look like these days? But how are you still continuing the mission in the world of economic development?
Eric Larson 04:29
Yeah, I think there are some really good examples of companies making impact. Bedrock, which is our largest landlord and real estate entity in downtown Detroit has two significant projects that were announced last year, one of which is moving forward, which is the Hudson site and will be redeveloped in the core of the downtown.
And so, what we’re seeing is, as I said before, are a little bit more conservative approach to the level of investment and the increased of your supply as well as demand. But I also think that Detroit has become known, especially over the last five years, for its cost of living and quality of life. And so as you’re seeing in other places around the country, many highly educated, tech-driven kinds of opportunities and investments both by individuals as well as by companies are starting to come to Detroit. And I think that poses a really unique economic development opportunity, because you don’t necessarily have to be in the office in order to really add value.
So Detroit has an ability to attract, you know, high quality workforce that can work remotely and can continue to support the overall economic development activities around the country, but be based in Detroit, and I think that’s something we’ll see more and more. I also think we’ll continue to see significant investment in both mobility and technology. You know, we are driving very hard, no pun intended towards the autonomous aspects of our economy. And I think Detroit has an ability to work with many of the logistics companies and so forth, to see that true.
Fabiola Fleuranvil 06:29
Is that one of your targeted industries? I know that Detroit is essentially the comeback city and there’s been a lot of revitalization, a lot of efforts to bring jobs into the city. So would you say that the logistics or autonomous tech is part of your targeted industry these days to expand and grow the local economy?
Eric Larson 06:51
I would say we’ve always had a very strong logistics companies especially the investment from the big three are is in the manufacturing and technology campus that Ford is building in Corktown in Detroit is all around technology and automation. So I think what we’ll see is significant focus there. You saw that announcement of Tesla, over a million miles already mapped for autonomous driving, the idea of being able to have a vehicle that normally in the old days would sit for 80% of its time, actually moving around and picking up multiple passengers as opposed to sitting in a garage unused. Those are the things that I think we’ll see significant focus on around overall mobility and autonomy. And so again, I really am excited about this region being able to lead how we start to pivot in transition into this technology, but also the ability to move people around in a much more efficient way.
Fabiola Fleuranvil 08:06
Well, you know, as you say that I’m thinking of Tesla that was threatening to leave their state, and looking for a new home. So perhaps, that could be the opportunity. But the opportunity is even with the technology that fuels Tesla and everything else that comes with that. Certainly seems like it could be a fit for your region.
Eric Larson 08:29
That’s right. But I think you actually touched on a really important point. Detroit has become known for the ability to live a really good quality of life at a cost effective price point. Many of the cities that are sort of better known for their technology basis, have become very, very hard to live and they become very expensive. The pandemic has shown people that having a little bit of access to open space and a lower cost of living is a real benefit. And in Detroit, we have that opportunity to capture a number of individuals that have had the experience in the larger cities, especially on the west coast, and really be able to promote a much sort of better quality of life while you’re still contributing to the overall economic expansion of some of the sport and entertainment. And so, if there’s ever anything we can do around public space, we would be interested in that as well.
Fabiola Fleuranvil 09:34
I love the city of Detroit. I do see the transition that’s happening in Detroit, and then even the desire to have more open spaces, more public spaces, and then expanding on your cultural assets as well. So there’s a lot of growth opportunities that I see in Detroit and that’s probably the story that doesn’t really get out there. I think the Midwest oftentimes gets squeezed out of some of these opportunities and you know, the limelight. But as you mentioned before, with everything, now, showing a different lens of how quality of life and space and everything else matters more than the previous definition of quality of life. I think that’s going to bring more attention back to cities that always offer that.
Eric Larson 10:25
I agree with you, wholeheartedly and a big part of the trade partnerships mission is creating those kinds of inviting and inclusive opportunities.
Fabiola Fleuranvil 11:46
So, I thank you for sharing your perspectives and sharing with us how Detroit is advancing and moving forward in expanding your local economy.
Eric Larson 11:56
I appreciate the opportunity. Thank you again, always here to help.