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Detroit

10 Years Ago, I helped lead Detroit's Transformation

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10 Years Ago, I helped lead Detroit's Transformation

Months after taking office, the auto industry collapsed and the United States entered the Great Recession of 2008. Despite these challenges, we unraveled city government, making our work transparent and open. We cleaned up the city’s finances, opened police precincts in Detroit’s neighborhoods and helped a city heal after years of corruption.

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We started rebuilding Detroit as soon as it came toppling down

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We started rebuilding Detroit as soon as it came toppling down

Seven years ago today, a Detroit City Council President stepped up and stepped in to a role he did not seek at the time -- Mayor of Detroit.  Kenneth V. Cockrel, Jr. was sworn in as Mayor on September 19, 2008 and began to rebuild a city left in shambles from its' previous mayor who was taken away in shackles.

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A  Plan For Community Engagement

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A Plan For Community Engagement

Conflict is inevitable with any high profile project. However, a carefully structured dialogue could offer a more effective and durable method to resolve conflicts and build consensus around controversial or often complex projects.

If project teams for high profile projects, such as a new international border crossing, a jail, new stadium or arena or a large mixed-use development are serious about seeing their vision a reality while contributing to the community, an effective strategy would be to engage the community and other stakeholders early in the process. 

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RELATIONSHIPS MAKE THE DIFFERENCE

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RELATIONSHIPS MAKE THE DIFFERENCE

Public affairs professionals with a solid reputation in the community and one who is familiar with the stakeholders and the issues important to them, can then help develop strategic and meaningful relationships, long before a high profile and often controversial project is announced.  That professional can then create a  community roadmap to help the project team navigate through the minefields of any project.  They will help minimize risk and help anticipate barriers to seeing projects to their completion.

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The community benefits when everyone is engaged

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The community benefits when everyone is engaged

The community benefits when everyone is engaged. From the design stage to the public process in securing permits, in addition to raising capital and targeting potential retailers and other tenants, constant engagement is vital to the success of any high profile project. 

Developing strategic relationships “early-on” helps minimize risk and helps anticipate barriers to seeing projects to their completion. Effective communications is vital to the public’s understanding of the project and the governments involved in helping the project move forward. Therefore, the company or consortium leading the project should be in control of the process and be proactive with their messaging and outreach.

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Top 5 Sources To Change The Public's Perception about Detroit

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Top 5 Sources To Change The Public's Perception about Detroit

 

If you are not defining the perception you want everyone to have, then everyone defines you based on their own perceptions. And even if those perceptions are wrong, then they are still right as far as the audience is concerned. Here are five sources that will change your perception about Detroit. 

  1. Detroit Unspun - This site has original content, including videos of all things great about Detroit and is a tremendous resource in aggregating other local news about Detroit.
  2. Michipreneur.com - Okay so not just about Detroit but about a lot of things local, including original content about Michigan's startup community -- For Innovators, Creatives & Doers....and another tremendous resource in aggregating other local news about Michigan.
  3. Model D Media - A great resource on the people and business remaking Detroit.
  4. Deadline Detroit - Need just one website that you can find all the news you need to know about Detroit?  Found it, HERE.
  5. Hell Yeah Detroit - A fun read about the people and places around Detroit that gives a great sense of the people and energy around this city. 

Honorable Mentions.

*FULL DISCLOSURE. a recent client

Honorable Mentions -- Traditional Media.

  • Detroit Free Press
  • The Detroit News
  • Michigan Chronicle
  • Crain's Detroit Business
  • dBusiness
  • HuffPostDetroit

If you find other media focused on telling and sharing stories about Detroit, Michigan and America's North Coast, please send them to me at dcherrin@NorthCoastStrategies.com and I will post them. 

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The public matters: Stakeholder Engagement

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The public matters: Stakeholder Engagement

 

In siting a project, such as a large scale mixed-use development or a high profile project such as a wind farm, pipeline or even WalMart, it is vital that the developer and construction team seek and obtain input from the community early on in the process and aggressively work to educate the media and other key stakeholders on their plans.

In representing such "public" projects, reaching out to the public must become a vital part of the process, otherwise, the project may be at jeopardy from the start. The community should feel like their voices are being heard and listened to. This will improve the chances of the developer realizing their vision and help strengthen their position to seek financing or investors.

In the example of windfarms, I was retained to represent an 1800 MW off shore wind proposal in Southwestern Ontario in Lakes Erie and St. Clair. In one day, I led 7 public engagement meetings and the public was anything but supportive. They could have been if they were involved early in the process, rather than reading about in the newspaper.  Because they read about it they were more emotional about the project than in understanding the big picture and how the developer leading the project was interested in working with the community and their plans for working with the community -- but that message was never heard. So while we listened and responded to their concerns, the project was never implemented. It was not implemented due to regulatory changes in the province, not because of public opinion.

I also represented a deep injection well, several years after the project was in operation and already cited for environmental violations by a previous owner. The new owner retained me to help improve relationships with the community to better understand the deep injection process and impact or lack thereof, this project would have.  So I invited the community into their facility to see the cite first hand, to appreciate the technology and see the depth of safeguards and systems they had in place to avoid future problems. 

Whether directed by law or not, stakeholder engagement is a necessary part of the process, particularly with renewable energy projects.  In these type of projects it is important that the community have any necessary information to the project and have an outlet to ask questions, whether it is through a website, twitter feed or in person meetings. In fact, before a project ever begins it is a good idea to engage key stakeholders in a thoughtful dialogue so you know what you are getting into and can anticipate issues and responses. While we knew we would not get the community's support, we wanted to let them know the new owner was aware of their concerns and willing to work with them. 

There are other examples, from large scale mixed-use developments set to transform a city to environmental justice issues such as the storage of petroleum coke along a major H20 Highway in the Great Lakes, but they all need a strategic strategy to educate a community, listen to their concerns and engage them rather than avoid them. The public needs to be a part of the process. By engaging the community, a developer will have an easier time going to the Mayor for support or getting the city council to agree on their proposal, long before they ultimately need their support. 

Developers are quick to announce projects and share renderings of new buildings.  Often however, they build up hope and good media, only to get sidelined by government that stands in the way of implementing a vision. To make the vision a reality, developers should go to the community first, find the community groups they need for support or at least become aware of their concerns and plan accordingly. This will also improve the developers position to seek financing or investors as it helps tell the project's story.

In other words, for a project to be successful, creating a strategy that engages the pubic early, with sufficient information will help build trust, enhance your reputation and improve understanding of the project to help reach desired outcomes. Successful local engagement, will help improve or overcome any legal and regulatory challenges standing in the way so the next time someone announces a project, it won't be because the public's opinion is not on their side. 

 

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All Great Cities Begin With A Vision

Sustainable leadership starts with a vision. That vision may be from a great mind or a great listener.  The State of the Union, State of the State and State of the City is the prime opportunity of the Chief Executive to celebrate their achievements, communicate their vision for what they want to happen before they leave office and their lay out their agenda for how they will achieve that vision.

As the former Communications Director for the City of Detroit, I have drafted a State of the City and worked to communicate a vision for Detroit. In our case, that vision was a dose of reality, following the previous mayors incarceration, the city's true financial situation exposed and a US economy on the verge of one of the worst recessions in decades. 

"We have a choice," Mayor Cockrel said in 2009. "We can continue to do business as usual and fail to live within our means as a city government, but doing so means that someone else will likely be appointed to come and make the hard choices for us."

At the time, the people of  Detroit did not want to hear or believe that message, but it was our warning that the previous Mayor left us in a very difficult position. As a result, we used that speech and that opportunity to lay out all the cards and give a realistic picture of Detroit's financial situation as we knew it at that time. 

It was also our opportunity to assure the people of Detroit and the entire state of Michigan, in addition to the bond holders that we had a handle on the situation and they they could be assured we were setting the city back on the right path. 

Today, the person appointed to fix Detroit's financial situation came and left. Crane's clutter Detroit's skyline and there is progress in the city. Lots of work however remains. Public safety remains an issue, obesity is a problem and illiteracy continues to plague Detroit. With the city's financial situation being taken care of, it is now time to focus on the people. We need to find a way to break the cycle of poverty in the city, find a way to ensure Detroit schoolchildren start school ready to learn and that a job awaits the people who seek them. 

The Mayor must now work at breaking the cycle of poverty and find a way for everyone to buy into the same vision. 

 

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If I were the Mayor of Detroit

Detroit in Transition – A plan to move Detroit Forward (Part 8 of 8)

If I were the mayor of Detroit, I would take every day to highlight a city department or agency, celebrate a city employee, eat in a Detroit restaurant and shop locally. Every day is a day to celebrate what works in Detroit, while drawing the public’s attention to what can work better.

Our new mayor has his challenges. But with the support of the people of Detroit, the State of Michigan and Michigan’s Congressional delegation behind his vision, than we can get it down together.

*This concludes our series on Detroit in Transition and a roadmap for moving Detroit Forward.

 

Detroit Skyline from Windsor, Ont.

Detroit Skyline from Windsor, Ont.

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Access to health care, in Detroit

Detroit in Transition – A plan to move Detroit Forward (Part 6 of 8)

Despite world-class health systems in the city of Detroit, the city must work to expand access to medical care and work to increase funding for Detroit’s Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC). 

Oakwood

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Addressing Poverty in Detroit

Detroit in Transition – A plan to move Detroit Forward (Part 5 of 8)

In addition, 60 percent of the children living in Detroit live in poverty. For adults living in Detroit below the poverty level, that rate is 38 percent.  However, it would be higher if the federal government increased the poverty guidelines. If it did, Detroit would be able to secure additional resources to help its struggling population. Instead, many try to make ends meet within this gap and continue to struggle. 

SW Detroit

SW Detroit

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Detroit’s Workforce

Detroit in Transition – A plan to move Detroit Forward (Part 4 of 8)

The city also eliminated its workforce department, which is now the Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation (DESC), a non-profit focused on retraining the city's unemployed.  However, the mayor should identify and advocate for the resources to support workforce development and perhaps create both temporary and permanent outplacement centers for those who are laid off and can be triaged into areas such as health care and other emerging industries.

Detroit's skyline and SW Detroit, from the MGM Parking Garage

Detroit's skyline and SW Detroit, from the MGM Parking Garage

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The Public’s Health

Detroit in Transition – A plan to move Detroit Forward (Part 3 of 8)

While it is no longer a city department, the health of Detroiters is very much a city problem.  High unemployment brings more than just economic consequences - it has a deep psychological impact. Eighteen percent of Detroiters are unemployed and nearly half of adults in Detroit are functionally illiterate

 

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Make The Building’s Blossom

Detroit in Transition – A plan to move Detroit Forward
(Part 2 of 8)

Detroit has the best opportunity to take advantage of abandoned buildings due to their location near highways, waterways and other resources. So, how can we turn these buildings into something useful? The various properties around the city are well documented in terms of condition and ownership. Now the City must determine the most viable opportunities for Detroit's vacant real estate and abandoned buildings, while at the same time, remove the red tape to redevelop the properties. This includes removing barriers to acquire abandoned property and turn it into a viable piece of property.  Perhaps that will be one of Mayor Duggan's top priorities. 

For a brief overview of Mayor Duggan's team and on Detroit's City Council, visit North Coast Strategies to see this directory on Detroit's New Leadership, 2014 Edition

 

Flower Blossom

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Detroit in transition: My hope for the City and its new mayor

As Mayor Duggan begins to set Detroit on a path to prosperity, based on my experience in serving as the Communications Director for the City of Detroit, here is what I recommend: 

Create a process to resolve disputes

To facilitate change in the city, the city needs to be more responsive to its constituency and those that want to do business in the city.  Therefore, it should have a system to resolve disputes quickly and efficiently.

While the city may have an administrative hearings bureau and an Office of Ombudsman, what it is missing is a process by which to resolve disputes with the city, within the city and between the city, its vendors and even with other governments or quasi-government entities.

The Mayor should work to create a process by which to help resolve disputes or facilitate change in the city. This also includes facilitating citizen engagement and working to find ways to leverage the public discourse to create sound policy for the city.  This includes issues within the city’s neighborhoods, including dealing with vacant lots, code enforcement, abandoned property, parking tickets and other issues.

Address Poverty

To address many of the underlying problems in the city, Mayor Duggan should designate someone to address poverty in the city and create an anti-poverty agenda, with the goal of ending poverty in Detroit.   The anti-poverty agenda will include many issues the Mayor will most likely work on, such as creating new jobs, improving the public’s health (under the new authority) and enhancing educational opportunities (through Detroit Public Schools and the various charter schools in the city). But it will take someone whose full time job it is to think about ways to resolve the poverty issue to end poverty in the city.  This includes focusing on families and early childhood education as well as integrated pediatric care to help break the cycle of poverty.

Economic Development

This is an area where I am confident the new mayor will have a leg up on.  However, I hope that the Mayor and his administration will look at where there are redundancy in the systems and work with various organizations in the city, such as the Detroit Regional Chamber, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, New Detroit, Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, the Downtown Detroit Partnership and others and help those organizations support the Mayor’s efforts by eliminating redundancy allowing each organization to refocus on what made their organizations strong.

What about Canada

I also hope that whatever strategy they embark on that they include Windsor/Essex as a partner.

Detroit's Brand

A final area that I hope will receive some attention is Detroit’s brand. There has been a lot of discussion about Detroit’s brand or tag line.  Detroit has a brand and the Mayor should reinforce what has made Detroit a great city and why Detroit will forever have a unique place in America’s fabric.  We are tough and resilient. Detroit build America’s middle class and we will rebuild it. We may sometimes find ourselves down, but never out. And the mayor should support that effort. 

Detroit Skyline from the Color Run

Detroit Skyline from the Color Run

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The State of the City, the Fate of the Nation

While incoming Mayor, Mike Duggan will have his challenges, perhaps he can work to build a bridge that cannot only change the culture within the City of Detroit, but one that will unify a region to help us all move forward.

In moving forward, it is important to focus on our strengths.  Manufacturing and trade have always been the center of Detroit’s economy.  From furs to steam engines, pharmaceuticals and cars, Detroit has long been the center of commerce -- Yet, Detroit has always been a fractured city. In fact, the reason why the world’s eyes are on Detroit today is because our region sets the mood for the world’s economy and the tone for how companies conduct their business in the future.

The world is watching us and we will not let them down.  Today’s economic environment and the new political change that has swept this region, provides us with the hope and opportunity that while we remain true to our manufacturing core, there are opportunities for us to seize and build upon -- This includes the surplus of people who are brilliant with their minds and their hands, such as engineers, line-workers and artists.  In addition to our access to our nation's critical infrastructure, such as plants that just need retooling or upgrades, access to the largest fresh water system on the planet, and access to major airports, rail and freeways.

To unify our region and to help Michigan move forward it will take leadership. In recent years, our business, political and community leaders have worked in a vacuum.  There are so many people and organizations that have the plans to make positive changes in this region - But no one is working together. It is time to work together and create one strategic plan that we can all work off of. One plan with one set of messages and one master "to do" list of what we need to, to move forward.

Despite these difficult times and differing agendas, we are not without a road map to how we should move forward.  Years ago, the French landed on the banks of our city and started to trade fur. Our port quickly became the center of commerce. Our city evolved and quickly became the path for freedom with the Underground Railroad, the Arsenal of Democracy and the Music of Motown. From the moment Cadillac stepped on our shores, the world’s eyes have always been on Detroit.

In 1890 Detroit had 205,876 people living in the city, double from the previous decade. In 1893 our Nation faced economic hardships with the Great Panic of 1893 and our city officials were faced with grand jury investigations into fraudulent contracting and bribery charges connected with various public works projects with a constant stream of indictments against certain alderman. It was the Great Panic of 1893 that basically shuttered Detroit’s industry, which at the time were steam engines.  Hazen Pingree was Mayor at the time that went on to become Governor, but it was Mayor Pingree who was elected on a platform of exposing and ending corruption in the city.  As Mayor Pingree expanded the public welfare programs, initiated public works for the unemployed, built new schools, parks, and public baths. He gained national recognition through his "potato patch plan," a systematic use of vacant city land for gardens, which would produce food for the city's poor.

In 1900 our populations grew to 285,704, in 1910 we numbered 465,766 and in 1920 we passed the million mark. From its very beginning, Detroit has been a manufacturing town.  Although industries have come and gone, we have been tied to manufacturing from sawmills, iron furnaces and copper smelting to steel and cars.  For years Detroit was at the center of the railway car industry, which paved the way for the automobile. Pharmaceuticals and stove manufacturing soon followed.  As the business leaders of Detroit today it is now our turn to shape Detroit’s future once again.

We are all in this together

We fail as a region when we fail to work together.  For example, although Oakland County and the city of Detroit are separate governments, Oakland County’s bond rating is directly tied to Detroit, so we all have a stake in seeing each other succeed. So let’s invest in each other.

As our local governments see declining revenue from the state, we must support each other and work with them to create public private partnerships and otherwise help identify alternative sources of revenue that will help maintain a certain quality of life. Our region will become a more business friendly region, if business and government work closer together.

Other cities have been down this road before, including San Diego, Miami, New Orleans and others. And each has reemerged stronger. Perhaps a bit leaner but also much stronger, and more efficient. That is what we need to work towards.

Collaboration

Given the state of our economy, we need to throw out the playbook and chart a new course for leveraging our region’s assets to create new industry, invest in our existing business and creative ways to foster a new generation of entrepreneurs and business. This means that organizations within the region should consider pooling resources to build and market a regional economy.

We are in a competitive struggle and as businesses continue to fail, the stakes could not be higher. We need to step out of our box as a community and do so as a single community.

This year will again be a year of tremendous challenge. Our city and our region will continue to face scrutiny and blame. But the scandals are behind us.  That was Detroit then.  And this is Detroit now.  A city still challenged.  Challenged to help its brothers and sisters in the automotive industry. A city challenged by a struggling economy and a city focused on helping its people find hope and opportunity.  We as a city are challenged to provide the basic city services that we all expect.

In a city like Detroit there will always be room for improvement. No matter what our future holds, we are ready to face the next challenge and the next opportunity. There is no doubt, however, that the year ahead of us will be one of challenge perhaps even continued uncertainty. And we as a city should be preparing for whatever may come our way.

In 1805 Detroit burned to the ground and Father Gabriel Richard, then pastor of Ste. Anne’s uttered what would become our city’s motto, “We hope for better things; it shall arise again from the ashes” Today, our city again faces a challenge, but with your help, we have the opportunity to rebuild.  Just as Judge Augustus Woodward help rebuild our city then, we have an opportunity to do it now.

From the Paris of the Midwest, the City of Churches and Trees, the Motor City, Detroit Rock City, Motown, Hockeytown and the City of Champions. Detroit is our town and it is time to reclaim it as our town. It is time to regroup, rebuild and re-brand this city as a new city and shining example of seizing a challenge and turning it into an opportunity.

*Portions of this post appeared in the 2008 State of the City Address, Detroit, Michigan.

The City of Detroit, from Eastern Market.

The City of Detroit, from Eastern Market.

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Detroit is Loonie for ignoring Canada

With Black Friday behind us and Cyber Monday behind us, retailers in Michigan, New York, Vermont, Washington and other border states are missing a huge opportunity to woo Canadian's across the border to shop in their stores for the holidays.

It seems these days, Canadians are watching the exchange rates more than ever as the slightest increase will create a more powerful Loonie, luring Canadian's to cross the border to do their holiday shopping.

However, US retailers, at least those in the Detroit-area, fail to market their products in Windsor and Southwest Ontario.  Not only do they fail to advertise or otherwise promote their products in Canada, they don't accept Canadian currency. On the other hand, travel to Windsor, not only will downtown merchants or those at Devonshire Mall and other local outlets, accept the American Greenback, but the parking meters accept US currency as well.

Unlike other bordering states, Detroit is the only metropolitan region that borders another Canadian metro region, and yet, businesses in Detroit fail to see the opportunities that exist on the other side of the river.

While those in Windsor travel more frequently to Detroit to eat, play and enjoy what the region has to offer, they are often left to themselves to figure out where to shop or eat. While Windsor has its own media, The A Channel, CTV, CBC, The Windsor Star, The Globe and Mail and The National Post, among others, we share media as well such as WDIV, WXYZ, FOX Detroit (WJBK) and others. However, through targeted mail or placing ads in Canadian media we are missing a chance to take your product directly to a new market and bring Windsor-Essex 216,000 + residents into your store.

Detroit needs to think regionally and bring Windsor into the discussion.It is time Detroit gets to know its neighbors. While the Detroit Regional Chamber and Windsor Essex Chamber may have a special relationship to help members with cross-border business it is not enough to bring our communities together. While the Canadian US Business Association recently re-established itself, it is not enough to know how to effectively market our business in both regions. And yet, thousands of people travel across the Detroit Windsor Tunnel, Blue Water Bridge and Ambassador Bridge to go to work, to meet family, to go to the doctor and to shop.

Well Detroit, you missed your chance on Black Friday, but now you have a few weeks to prepare for Boxing Day.

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