Detroit’s change will be for better, Mackinac GOP told

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

Within the next 10 years, the city of Detroit should look very different than it does now, predicts a panel of business and political leaders at the Michigan Republican Leadership Conference on Mackinac Island.

The change will be for the better, and it’s starting now.

“The biggest difference is hope throughout the city,” said John Walsh, director of strategy for Gov. Rick Snyder.

But to get to that point, the city must overcome some remaining obstacles.

The panel, the “Revitalization of Detroit,” took place this afternoon, and was moderated by Nolan Finley, editorial page editor of The Detroit News.

The discussion focused on what work is left for Detroit, now that it has moved past its historic bankruptcy. Many challenges remain, including how to fix the city’s schools, reduce crime and get more unemployed individuals back to work.

Education and workforce development are key priorities, the experts said. And the city and business community will need to continue the partnerships that led the Detroit of bankruptcy.

“The business and foundation community continue to play a role,” said David Meador, vice chairman and chief administrative officer of DTE Energy. Meador is helping develop better coordination of workforce training programs in the city.

Meaders points to how unemployment among Detroit youth is 50 percent, which is in stark contrast to 5.1 percent unemployment statewide.

“That’s not healthy for any state,” Meador said.

And as Detroit Public Schools continues to struggle financially and academically, Snyder’s focus has turned to fixing schools. Walsh is working along with Snyder to get a package of bills introduced that would create a new leadership structure for DPS, as well as a bailout.

David Nicholson, group CEO of PVS Chemicals, spoke to the skills gap employers in the city face and agrees that schools must do a better job preparing youth for jobs — and more of that training could start in high schools.

“We don’t need PhDs,” Nicholson said. “We need more skilled trades.”

Sandy Baruah, CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, credits the governor for his efforts in the bankruptcy and now with schools in a largely Democratic city.

“A Republican governor took a huge risk,” Baruah said. “It’s a powerful leadership story.”