As part of its holiday tradition, Detroit recently celebrated its tree-lighting. The sights and sounds were simply spectacular and, as evidenced by the glowing comments on social media, the city looked great and is certainly on the rebound.

Or is it?

Clearly, the momentum continues downtown and people are enjoying the energy that downtown and other parts of the city have to offer.

Between motorized bikes, new stadiums, restaurants, rehabbed and new buildings, an influx of people and jobs and investment, one can feel the renewed vigor, excitement and changing attitudes.

Let's be careful, however, and not get ahead of ourselves.

The "Detroit divide" continues.

According to a recent Moody's Investors analysis, "Detroit's downtown is transforming amid a hub of large-scale developments, population growth, and surging employment." 

The summary continues, "However, this momentum only encompasses seven of Detroit's 143 square miles and 6 percent of the city's population. Strengthening the city's property tax base beyond the city center would better position it to afford its already high debt and pension burdens."

This analysis reinforces my observations, based on recent visits with businesses and residents in parts of the city.

Albeit a small sample size, I along with business associates recently had the opportunity to visit and discuss neighborhood challenges with Detroit's business owners and residents.

And what we found is a mixed bag.

Clearly, there's momentum, but there's still a divide and work needs to be done across the entire city. 

What is the "Detroit divide"?

It's a perceptual gap that exists between where people live and work relative to the excitement percolating downtown and other parts of the Motor City. 

Key neighborhood issues fall in the following categories: crime, poverty, jobs and job training and education.

And while those interviewed generally agree economic development and investment are moving in a positive direction, the overall key is expanding opportunities into the neighborhoods. The prevailing thought is there's an investment and development emergence in certain neighborhoods. 

The general belief is development's slow and needs to expand into Detroit's fragile residential areas.

And while there are positive vibes regarding Corktown and Midtown development, for example, a simple question was asked: "When will it hit my area?"

When asked what they would like to see, residents indicated the following:

  •  Job/training investment: Offer increased number of job fairs, recruiting and higher-paying jobs where they live and work
  • Retailers: Attract service-related retailers and businesses
  • Corridor revitalization: Address commercial centers and corridors blight
  • Business expansion: Make neighborhoods regional centers for downtown-based businesses 
  • Business sponsors: Have businesses sponsor specific neighborhoods for job training and financial literacy efforts, for example                 
  • Tech investment: Invest in certain areas have them become tech centers supporting business priorities                                                                                      

There is recognition the Detroit is moving in the right direction, but while the investment and economic development gap remains unbalanced, in the minds of the residents there will always be the Detroit divide.

Now is the time to continue to expand these efforts across the entire city so all parts of Detroit can benefit.

Mark S. Lee is president & CEO of The LEE Group and he hosts "Small Talk with Mark S. Lee" Sundays, via and 910 AM Superstation.


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