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A group of 15 CEOs from Southeast Michigan and the Detroit Regional Chamber have launched an unnamed regional economic entity dedicated to spurring job growth.

Barry Matherly, who heads a similar organization in Richmond, Virginia, will serve as the nonprofit's CEO starting Jan. 3, working to attract out-of-state and international companies to the 11-county region. The organization will fill a need to attract new businesses to the region and create a single point of entry to connect businesses interested in opening up shop with the right resources.

"Site consultants have been pretty clear that you need to get a group like this to make your region much easier for businesses to enter," said Gerry Anderson, DTE Energy Co. CEO who leads the CEO group. "It's really a place that is going to help bring new investment and make it much easier to enter. That's our job."

The nonprofit will spin off from the Detroit Regional Chamber's Destination Detroit business attraction program that operates off $750,000 per year. Five people currently work in the program and the plan is to expand that up to 20 employees. 

"The intent or the goal is to increase our capacity to attract new business investment and jobs into the 11-county Detroit region," said Sandy Baruah, Detroit Regional Chamber CEO. "We’re doing that now. We want to do more of it."

The informal group of CEOs, known as the Regional CEO Group, consists of leaders from the largest companies in the region including Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co., Quicken affiliate Rock Ventures, Ilitch Holdings Inc., health-care systems and major foundations. They meet quarterly at DTE headquarters in Detroit to identify areas they can affect with funding and leadership: transit, job training, public place-making and economic development across Southeast Michigan.

Anderson said private corporations and foundations initially will fund the nonprofit, though he said he expects the public sector eventually will contribute, as well. Based on similarly sized regional economic development organizations, he said the target investment for the nonprofit is about $6 million. 

Following a nationwide search, Matherly comes from the Greater Richmond Partnership, which covers the city of Richmond and three surrounding counties. During its 2017–2018 fiscal year, the partnership helped to create 20 economic development projects and 1,623 new jobs.

A certified economic developer, Matherly has more than 24 years of leadership experience and previously served as the chair of the International Economic Development Council, the largest economic development association in the world.

"The chance to build a region is just intoxicating to me," he said. "That was one of the big drivers to be able to work in Southeast Michigan with a lot of people who want to have a very successful regional economic group."

Matherly said his first steps will be to conduct a month-long "listen and learn tour" as he familiarizes himself with the Southeast Michigan business community. Anderson said he hopes the preliminary structure of the group will take shape by the end of the first quarter. Matherly said efforts will include increased marketing to raise the region's profile and growing a pipeline of companies.

"Thank goodness Detroit has an excellent hub there with connections across the country and world," he said.

In the meantime, market research efforts and collaboration are taking place to select a name for the nonprofit. Matherly said one will be chosen over the next three months.

Anderson will lead the nonprofit's board that will grow overtime. So far it includes Baruah and Mayor Mike Duggan as well as Charles “Chip” McClure, the managing partner at Michigan Capital Advisors, and Ray Telang, greater Michigan managing partner at PricewaterhouseCooper and Detroit Regional Chamber chair. Macomb and Wayne County executives Mark Hackel and Warren Evans are also on it. Phil Bertolini, Oakland County deputy executive, will serve in an advisory role.

Bertolini said Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson is open to joining the board, though he is waiting to see how the group is formed and how it performs.

"We are very involved in the group," Bertolini, however, said. "We are using the resources, and we are working with them."

The CEO group made headlines in August when Patterson told reporters that he would sooner "join the Klan" than join the effort. He later apologized and changed course in September, telling The Detroit News that he was sending representatives from the county to a meeting for the group.

The tipping point, Bertolini said, was a meeting earlier this month between Anderson and Patterson.

"Early on, we were concerned it was being formed to strictly focus on the city of Detroit," Bertolini said. "They’ve assured us that’s not the case, that they'll be a neutral broker to all of the region. It's important for us to be there to ensure that’s actually happening."

Bertolini said Oakland County's own economic development efforts have brought in nearly $5 billion in investment since 2004. He said the county would like the group to be transparent and provide new leads for economic growth.

"What success is going to look like is increased development opportunities," Bertolini said, "and more jobs brought to the region."

The 11 counties the nonprofit will serve are Genesee, Lapeer, Lenawee, Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, Shiawassee, St. Claire, Washtenaw and Wayne counties. Anderson said he expects representatives from all the counties will hold a board position or serve on a board committee.

bnoble@detroitnews.com

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