Detroit — The city is trying to lure expats back for major investment and Mayor Mike Duggan on Thursday announced it had landed a big one.
Fashion CEO Jeffry Aronsson has committed to providing a plan in February for a fashion hub and campus in Detroit. The location, both said, is not yet determined, but it’s expected to engage smaller city-based companies and “grow Detroit brands.”
“For me, this is a huge big circle coming back and an opportunity thanks to a visionary mayor. To take the sum total of a rather eclectic career and bring it home, this is a homecoming,” said Aronsson, who has been at the helm of major brands ranging from Donna Karan to Oscar de la Renta and Marc Jacobs. “I’m coming home to bring it to Detroit.”
Duggan unveiled the plan during a Thursday speech at the fourth Detroit Homecoming. The event, held at the Factory in Corktown, seeks to draw back successful former residents and spur investments.
This concept evolved from a meeting Duggan had with Aronsson in New York about bringing a new fashion, apparel and luxury sector to Detroit. Aronsson, whose family has roots in Corktown and ran a successful restaurant business, said whatever he could do to help Detroit, he would.
“One thing we need for Detroiters right now are job opportunities. Jobs that you have a high school degree, and you are willing to work hard and learn some new skills and raise your standard of living,” Duggan said. “The apparel industry has enormous potential.”
The idea is to grow the companies that have already started out and bring in more to lead to “good paying jobs,” which Duggan added is “what we need in Detroit.”
“Now we’ve got an apparel, fashion, luxury strategy, and we’re going to keep on trying to add different sectors of jobs in the city,” Duggan said.
Both Aronsson and Duggan said the concept includes a concentrated campus where multiple businesses would be located together. Figures on the anticipated investment and job creation are still being worked out.
Among the city-based companies Aronsson plans to partner with are Detroit Denim Co. and Detroit Vs Everybody, which is already part of his steering committee, he said.
Aronsson, who went to the University of Michigan and Wayne State University, currently is based in New York. He intends to add an additional residence in Detroit.
Separately, Duggan on Thursday talked about the competitive effort to get a proposal to Amazon, which is looking for a North American city to build its massive second headquarters. The deadline for submissions is Oct. 19.
Duggan said billionaire investor Dan Gilbert is leading the effort that’s engaging state and regional partners for a bid committee including Gov. Rick Snyder, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and others.
“We’ve got five weeks. We’re going to try and draw on all the talents across this community to put together a proposal,” Duggan told reporters after his address. “We’re up against really tough competition from really good cities.”
In his Thursday pitch to a crowd of expats, Duggan touted the implementation of 65,000 new LED streetlights, improved bus services, the demolition of blighted homes and some 5,000 additional housing units in the city.
The mayor also stressed the need for “intense” neighborhood and commercial redevelopment, reiterating his strategy for “20 minute neighborhoods” to provide nearby residents with close, walkable access to grocery stores and other amenities.
Duggan noted progress in several areas under Detroit’s Strategic Neighborhood Fund, a philanthropic partnership that aims to transform vacant homes, empty lots and storefronts. It’s now being expanded, he said, to seven additional areas.
The Thursday talk comes amid more positive news for the city: the latest U.S. Census Bureau figures were released, showing poverty went down last year in Detroit and incomes rose. The income increase was the first significant gain in the city since the 2000 census.
Duggan, however, said he knows there’s more work to do. Among the areas of concern are the city’s public schools. The mayor was hopeful about the district’s changing leadership and its programs to improve opportunities.
“If you look at where we’ve come in four years, we need the schools to make the same progress over the next four years,” he said.
This year’s homecoming kicked off Wednesday night and features more than 230 expatriates seeking to explore business opportunities in Detroit. More than $300 million has been invested in city projects and businesses since the program launched in 2014, organizers said.