Detroit — The city of Detroit and the region as an ideal place for retail investment was a picture local officials painted Thursday during a gathering among retail and real estate developers at Cobo Center.

“The attitudes not just locally, but nationally are changing so fast,” said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who gave a lunch presentation during a daylong conference hosted by the International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade organization.

Duggan noted improvements within the city since he took office in January 2014. Among those areas of progress were increased lighting throughout neighborhoods and the improved speed of police and ambulance response. 

“We’re not under any illusion about how far we have to go,” he said. "We are making some significant progress. Everything we’re doing is driven by a single strategic plan. Nothing is being done by accident."

Duggan gave an overview of the city's history as a manufacturing town with hundreds of thousands of homes built to accommodate workers. He noted the decline in population over a 60-year period and the subsequently abandoned homes. He highlighted that the city is dealing with its blight issue with either demolition of or auctioning of houses.

Duggan also noted the increase in development in downtown Detroit as well as Ford Motor Co.'s recent announcement to refurbish the nearby Michigan Central Depot as office space for 5,000 workers.

“It’s an exciting time to be here,” he said.

Earlier in the day, county executives shared the region's strengths and also shared their desire for improved infrastructure and talent development.

“There’s no question one of the main priorities of the entire region has been the focus on what can we do with these roads,” Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said.

“How are we going to fix these roads because it’s not just an annoyance for people who are blowing tires and having to get them fixed. It’s an economic development issue and concerning for people that want to invest here.”

During the panel discussion, Hackel was joined by Phillip Bertolini, deputy county executive for Oakland County and Khalil Rahal, deputy county executive for Wayne County. 

Bertolini said he agreed with Hackel and added his desire to invest in people.

"Our college graduates need to stay here," he said. "Our young people need to get the education they need to take the jobs we need them to fill. So let’s build a curriculum around what the businesses need and the economy needs.

"… We need to get people ready to take these jobs. When you build infrastructure, you also create jobs. And we’re firm believers that government doesn’t create jobs. What we do is create an environment and the private sector create jobs."

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN

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