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Duggan speaks on economic recovery efforts amid pandemic

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Mayor Mike Duggan spoke on Detroit's COVID-19 policies, boosting small businesses and working toward economic recovery through plans and partnerships Wednesday during a televised conversation.

The Detroit Regional Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conversations "Respond and Rebuild," was created in partnership with Detroit Public TV in place of the annual conference, which had to be canceled this year because of the health crisis.

During the 40-minute interview with WJBK-TV's Roop Raj, Duggan spoke on topics of Michigan’s response to COVID-19, the 2020 election, racial justice and achieving equity.

Starting with the pandemic, Duggan said Detroit was one of the biggest hot spots in the country during the pandemic, but "it was amazing how fast we bent the curve."

Mayor Mike Duggan speaks at the Detroit Regional Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conversations on Wednesday.

"We had one of the largest testing sites up and running in a matter of four or five days, and it was just one partnership after another after another," he said, which helped the city move forward.

The city had more than 1,000 in Detroit hospitals consecutively during March and April, and have declined to 75 this week; however, Duggan said people are being put in jeopardy as more restrictions are lifted.

“If we are on the traditional flu trajectory, by December or January we could be back in crisis mode," he said. "At the very time the governor’s orders are most needed, they are being put in jeopardy. These make absolutely no sense, but I believe these numbers are going to continue to climb into the winter months. And we are going to have to be more vigilant, not less."

He said the city's residents have been understanding and compliant with orders because of the health risks they face.

"There was no doubt about the racial disparity and health care of African Americans are two or three times more likely to die from COVID than a Caucasian because of a lot of underlying health risks and the health gaps in this country," Duggan said. "The people here made a commitment to wearing masks and distancing, and that's has made a difference."

Still, Duggan said he "knows what the governor is going through" and has received a lot of hate mail from "militia types" outstate who oppose the COVID-19 restrictions.

City business

Small businesses will continue to receive boosts through grants and loans to survive through the pandemic, but "we're going to need another round of help because it took a lot to get those storefronts (on Livernois) occupied," he said.

Parking meters have also been changed in the city to allow free 15-minute periods for restaurants to convert and allow curbside pick-up.

Also notable, steel frames are being placed at Interstate 96 and Livernois for a $30 million facility that will provide free skilled trades training for up to 1,500 students per year — and they'll earn wages and benefits while they learn.

Duggan said African Americans have been excluded from the building trades for generations and starting next year, that will change.

Detroit At Work has also been hosting job fairs, skill-building and tutoring that led to more than 1,000 workers eligible to join FCA training.

"We now have a whole line of Detroit companies who have come to Detroit At Work to find employees, like New Center Stamping, Universal Assembly, Dakota and a number of others who want the same agreement," he said.

"They say, we'll give you our qualifications if you'll recruit the Detroiters, we will interview everyone on your Detroit list before we interview anyone else, and it's causing us to land more and more companies by saying we can fill your jobs faster than anywhere else in the country."

Empty buildings are also a concern in downtown during the pandemic. New employees are missing out on company cultures and are doing poorly working from home, he said.

"I think business will return to some form of the physical office next year, but we'll see," Duggan said.

The city passed an ordinance to create more affordable housing by requiring any new apartment buildings to set aside 20% of rentals for low-income residents.

"If you want to live in an area completely stratified by income there are plenty of suburbs to live in," he said. "If you live in Detroit, you're choosing a lifestyle that people of all backgrounds and incomes will be living and interacting with each other. We've had a lot of success with this so far, but there's still a lot of work to be done."

To get back to normal, it's going to take a vaccine, said Duggan, adding he hopes by summer 2021.

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @SarahRahal_