Duggan taps Snyder aide Nick Khouri to lead development

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan is hiring a former top Snyder administration official as Detroit's chief development officer.

The mayor's office said Thursday morning that Nick Khouri, who served as state treasurer during Snyder's last term, will replace Tom Lewand Sr., the city's development chief for Duggan's first six years in office. Lewand is retiring in February.

Nick Khouri

Khouri, who was an executive at DTE Energy for 18 years before joining Snyder's team, also worked for the administration of former Gov. John Engler in the 1990s.

The 61-year-old Northville resident says more evenly distributing economic opportunity will be his primary challenge.

"This is still a city with high poverty and struggling families," Khouri said. "We have to move economic development through all areas of the city." 

Duggan praised Khouri's understanding of government's role in encouraging economic growth.

"With his deep experience in the business community and as state treasurer, Nick will understand better than anyone what level of city participation is necessary and appropriate to close development deals and how to structure them to maximize their benefit to Detroiters,” the mayor said in a statement.

Khouri, who retired from DTE as vice president for government affairs, says he has been following Detroit throughout his career.

"Two things have changed," he says. "First is the cooperation between government, corporations, foundations and non-profits. It's really important to have everyone on the same page.

"And second, the sense of optimism. There's a belief that we can roll up our sleeves and fix the problem."

Lewand says the development landscape has changed drastically during his tenure.

He recalled the first deal Duggan made was to land the American Light Metal Institute, and that required a full-court press to get its 50 jobs to Detroit instead of Ohio. 

Today, Detroit is negotiating deals like those to bring Ford Motor Co. to the Michigan Central Depot and an FCA assembly plant to the east side, with thousands of jobs each.

"Each deal got bigger and more exciting for people," Lewand says. "We've been able to attract more businesses and create more jobs. And they’re jobs for Detroiters."

Lewand says it's still "tricky to do a deal in Detroit. Our construction costs are higher than the rest of the country because so much is going on here. People have a lot of misgivings, but at the same time they're excited. They just have a lot of questions."

Khouri begins work Jan. 1.