Detroit – From near bankruptcy to growth… an interesting lesson for the Nordics and Europe

Urbanisation is tricky to manage when a big company or industry in the city declines or closes. Similarly new large immigrant populations need support to get educated and find jobs. Detroit has some interesting lessons for us in Europe that can be applied to increase economic activity and regenerate a city and its new arrivals.

Detroit’s estimated population is has fallen to below 7000,000, a steep decline from a peak of over 1.8 million in the 1950s.

Just 4 years ago Detroit was on the brink of bankruptcy – now there is a great story is emerging telling how the city has worked with banks, companies and the federal government agencies to revitalise the city.

The main article is in Forbes magazine and is written by Allison Arieff is a contributing POLITICO Focus writer covering urban infrastructure and revitalization.

It is a long article and so here is a summary of the main points:

“A Model Of Recovery For America’s Cities”

Partnerships between the public and private sectors play a crucial role. In 2013, the Mayor’s office and a range of local groups including banks and companies helped fuel a recovery focused on stabilizing neighborhoods, re-training the workforce for today’s job market and bolstering local small businesses, while attracting new investors.

The private sector committing over $100 million in 2014 with plans to expand that to more than $150 million by 2019.

For a city that was losing population just four years ago, the latest indicators are encouraging: Unemployment has nearly halved and 8,000 more Detroiters are working now than at this time last year. The downtown area, once blighted and abandoned, is flourishing with restaurants and businesses. Some 2,000 vacant homes are being rehabbed and reoccupied.

But Detroit’s recovery is not just the feel-good story of America’s rustbelt – it’s a lesson in collaboration and partnerships.

Data-Driven Workforce Development

Detroit partnered with the Corporation for Skilled Workforce (non-profit body) and a bank to research employment barriers. Their research produced two reports in early 2016 evaluating the city’s untapped labor potential and solutions for increasing the employment rate.

The reports helped pinpoint high demand industries so training programs can tailor their offerings to meet the market demands. The board’s efforts are also supported by the Workforce Intelligence Network in Detroit, which keeps track of open jobs by location and industry, to provide the city and trainers with actionable market data.

To date, 15,000 Detroiters have received career and technical training. One example is The Greening of Detroit, a nonprofit devoted to restoring the city’s tree infrastructure while providing training for skilled jobs in forestry, urban agriculture and landscaping.

Open For Business

In 2014, Detroit focused on growing incubators, such as TechTown and Eastern Market, to provide local ventures with the resources and skills training. The incubators spurred growth, but research soon showed that a portion of Detroit’s most important small businesses were being left behind.

Many of the minority-owned small businesses weren’t expanding or even surviving because they couldn’t get access to funding. Minority-owned construction companies, for example, couldn’t bid on higher-end development projects because they didn’t have the funds to get more employees or equipment. A new fund designed to help minority-owned small businesses has awarded over 40 small businesses with critical capital. Today, Detroit’s minority-owned small businesses are expanding, not just surviving.

Stabilizing Detroit’s Neighborhoods

Detroit’s population was rapidly dwindling, due in part to failing neighborhood infrastructure. Detroit was overrun with unoccupied properties – approximately 91,000 vacant lots and 78,000 abandoned properties!

That’s why financiers directed more than $50 million of investments to building and supporting two new community development funds with Invest Detroit, a local community development organization, and Capital Impact Partners, a national organization focused on revitalizing neighborhoods. The funds finance community development projects in and adjacent to Detroit’s urban core with the goal of creating livable and workable spaces that attract and retain residents.

Connecting Detroit: The M-1 Rail

Blighted neighborhoods were not Detroit’s only challenge. The city’s automobile legacy bears the consequence of a historically underfunded public transportation system. In 2014, the city financed a new light rail, a 3.3-mile project to connect Detroit’s downtown to the cultural district. The light rail is expected to serve 5,400 riders a day, according to Michigan’s Department of Transportation, and has brought in new investors to develop housing and commercial opportunities along the light rail’s path.

Detroit’s recovery demonstrates how targeted efforts fueled by data and collaboration can work to solve a city’s problems. Cities can’t have small businesses if they don’t have a workforce to support them. And a workforce can’t thrive without stable communities and the means to get to and from them. While every city is unique in its own way and requires tailored solutions, Detroit’s comeback is a model for other cities to follow.

Read other news on the city site of Helsinki.

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