Bankole: Detroit's recovery set back by pandemic

Bankole Thompson

The coronavirus that has upended our daily lives isn’t going to last forever, even as Detroit becomes one of the most prominent places nationally where the pandemic is taking its toll. News of the TCF Center in downtown Detroit, formerly Cobo Center, being retrofitted into an overflow hospital to attend would-be victims of this public health disaster underscores how dreadful things are right now. 

But when we look at the havoc the pandemic is wreaking on the city, the question remains: How much impact will COVID-19 have on Detroit, a city that has touted an economic recovery yet has been challenged by extreme poverty? 

“It will take a lot for Detroit to recover from this crisis, especially in the commercial industry,” says Sheila Dapremont, a longtime Detroit entrepreneur and a third generation demolition contractor. "Many small businesses are going to be wiped out. I really don’t know how long people can hold on and try to survive this."

A group, including several in military fatigues, gathers at the Joe Louis statue at the TCF Center in Detroit, Michigan on March 30, 2020.

Dapremont, owner of 3D Wrecking, says the coronavirus has thrust Detroit into uncharted waters. 

“I feel sorry for a lot of people in the city,” she says. “There are some people who were one paycheck away from poverty while also trying to maintain a small business in the city.”

“For everyday Detroiters it is going to be even harder. We are already paying the highest auto insurance anyway. I see the hurt everywhere. What I have been doing now is shopping for some of my elderly neighbors who could not go out because they have health challenges.” 

Workers build a temporary hospital at TCF Center. Emergency use of the convention center shows the impact the pandemic has taken on Detroit, Thompson writes.

As the pandemic engulfs Detroit, it spotlights the city’s high poverty rate. Many who lack access to quality care remain vulnerable to COVID-19. 

“This crisis is affecting Detroit proper,” says George Jackson, the former president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. 

“I think there is a relationship between poverty, health issues and educational attainment. Therefore it is very important to assertively address these issues as part of the recovery of Detroit,” Jackson says, noting that if the underlying issues of poverty are not addressed, the pandemic could have a long term negative impact. 

Cynthia J. Pasky, the president and CEO of Strategic Staffing Solutions, recognizes the challenge the coronavirus creates for employers of labor and drivers of the recovery. 

“We believe the coronavirus will have a substantial but time-limited impact on the city,” she says. "Detroit, more than most, cannot afford the loss of city income tax that would have been gained from our businesses and the influx of revenue that comes from having three of our four major sports teams idled for substantial time."

This is the locker room inside the Detroit Pistons Performance Center in Detroit.

“What may be most costly over time is that we had finally gotten to a point where major employers agreed to get behind some serious job training programs which would have filled thousands of well-paying jobs, staffed overwhelmingly by heretofore unemployed and under-skilled Detroiters. Each one of those jobs would have lifted a Detroit family out of poverty.”

Pasky says it’s too soon to tell how much and for how long the pandemic will delay Detroit's recovery, but she’s confident the business community can bounce back.

The virus stands to render a blow to disadvantaged Detroiters. This warrants collective action from everyone, including the business community, to meet the challenge this pandemic will have on Detroit.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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