Mike Gallagher, Correspondent
Detroit is a city in transition, but one with an upside potential that is not only being recognized in Michigan, but in the nation’s capitol and internationally as well, says Jay Williams, U.S. assistant secretary of commerce for economic development.
Crediting the philanthropic commitment of foundations throughout Detroit and Michigan as one of the leading reasons for positive change in the Motor City, Williams says the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), Congress and the president all applaud the important role they are playing.
“You should all be proud of the work you are doing to help revitalize Detroit,” Williams told a gathering of foundation leaders attending a recent InFocus meeting at Motown’s Rattlesnake Club.
The Council of Michigan Foundations sponsors the InFocus meetings in Detroit which recently held a presentation entitled: “Southeast Michigan: Economic Strategies That Work – What The Country Can Learn From Detroit”.
In a whirlwind of discussions recently with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, and business and investment leaders such as Dan Gilbert, Williams discussed the crucial role foundations are playing in the Motor City’s resurgence.
“Certainly the size and scale of challenges here in Detroit are somewhat unique,” says Williams. “Lots of cities have challenges as well. But with those challenges come major opportunities.
“The wealth that foundations bring to the table, not just in terms of asset value, but the wealth of knowledge, goodwill and credibility – and the momentum that they bring – is incredible! A lot of cities in economic distress would love to have this many foundation leaders who gather in a room and figure out strategies of how they can bring resources to the situation.”
Explaining the role and mission of the U.S. Commerce Department’s EDA to the gathering of grantmakers, Williams says:
“Economic development creates the conditions for economic growth and improved quality of life by expanding the capacity of individuals, firms and communities to maximize the use of their talents and skills to support innovation, lower transaction costs and responsibly produce and trade valuable goods and services.
“Economic development requires effective, collaborative institutions focused on advancing mutual gain for the public and the private sector. Economic development is essential to ensuring our economic future.”
Williams says he sees EDA’s mission with Detroit as being an integral partner in helping forge strategic collaborations between government/business/education/philanthropy and making sure corporations around the globe realize Motown is a great, economically viable place to do business.
Rob Collier, President & CEO, Council of Michigan Foundations;
Rodrick Miller, President & CEO, Detroit Economic Growth
Corporation; Jay Williams, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce
for Economic Development and Dave Egner, President and CEO,
In addition, he notes, “We have to work with all the players to ensure Detroit is propelled forward as a result of a growing, market-driven economy, and not one propped up by temporary supports.”
As a former mayor of Youngstown, Ohio, Williams says he sees the similarities between his hometown and Detroit and thus the need for sustained, viable growth and economic stimulation plans and projects that can be replicated in cities and towns across the U.S.
“It is our (EDA’s) job to be responsive to the needs of communities like Detroit. We are not in a position to dictate what is in the best interests of Detroit or anywhere else. To that extent we are a small agency with an outsize impact that serves as part of that bridge, part of that partnership we need to build and nurture here.
“I would love for every city, every community that is eligible for EDA assistance to no longer be in that position,” he adds. “I would like nothing better than to drive the EDA out of existence because that would mean we truly have that market-driven recovery in those communities.
“But until we get there, our role is to act as that partner, as a facilitator, to provide those investments that help ultimately set the stage for that recovery.
“And to the extent that you are doing that in your capacity as foundations and financial institutions that is exceptionally important because there still exists gaps that need to be filled where we can make the investments for the needs in a community…and that’s where partnerships with philanthropic organizations and financial institutions can help leverage our investments.”
Noting various EDA/Detroit investment partnerships that are currently in place, Williams says there is more the federal government can do in collaboration with Detroit and its supporters.
“I am excited to come here to engage you and have our regional staff in Chicago talk very specifically about the investments we can make that will hopefully be leveraged and partnered with the people in this room and other parts of this community that will ultimately put Detroit further along that path of a market-driven recovery,” he told the gathering of grantmakers.
In a closing note to the InFocus foundation attendees, Williams adds:
“Thank you all for your commitment and what you are doing for Detroit and also for informing other philanthropic organizations across the country. There are other philanthropic communities that have started redirecting their priorities based on what they have seen happening in Detroit and Michigan.
“I am very excited to tell you that you have a partner in the EDA to help Detroit as it grows and moves forward in the future.”