June 4, 2014 at 1:00 am

George Jackson Jr.: Development guru proud he helped 'people think differently about the city'

Michiganian of the Year: George Jackson
Michiganian of the Year: George Jackson:

A short walk or drive throughout Detroit provides evidence of George Jackson Jr.’s life work.

There’s General Motors Co.’s world headquarters, the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel, Campus Martius, as well as projects such as the M-1 rail line and a new Red Wings arena coming near Midtown.

Jackson has overseen it all.

From 2002 until he left in March, Jackson led the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., a quasi-public agency that has spearheaded most of the major projects in the city.

“What we proved was you can take a community that was somewhat tarnished (in terms) of developing ourselves, and we began a turnaround,” Jackson said. “That has led us to a community that is more developed than it was 12 years ago.”

Jackson, who called his work the building blocks for Detroit’s future, said he focused on creating partnerships and accomplishing development no matter how insurmountable the odds.

Some projects were done during the automotive collapse, a city corruption scandal involving former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and a financial collapse that led to the city’s bankruptcy filing last year.

DEGC Board Chairman Rod Gillum called Jackson’s work remarkable, saying he understood progress took strategic planning and sound project management.

“We enjoy the resurgence of Detroit today because of the seeds planted and the statewide collaborations built by George Jackson and the DEGC to stimulate investment, jobs and opportunities for economic development in all of the sectors,” Gillum said.

Doug Rothwell, president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan, agreed.

“(Jackson) is a top-rate economic development professional that has served the city while working in both the private and public sectors,” Rothwell said. “George has played a critical role in the city of Detroit’s redevelopment efforts over the last decade.”

Two significant projects, Jackson said, were the Lower Woodward project, an effort in downtown and Midtown that rebuilt 91 facades over 36 months, and removing the cement silos along the Detroit riverfront.

“It is very visible,” he said, “and I really think those projects changed the face of Detroit.”

It was more than a job for the native Detroiter.

“It was personal,” Jackson said. “I’m very fortunate that I was able to make a difference in this city. The difference is not just a physical difference. But there was a role I had in regards to making people think differently about the city. That, to me, is more important, than the brick and mortar.”

Darren Nichols

George Jackson Jr. / Max Ortiz / The Detroit News