“Detroit is Open for Business”: Kevin Johnson and DEGC Continue to Power City’s Revitalization

By Donald James Special to the Chronicle

For 40 years and counting, Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC) has been the nonprofit entity paving the way for the city’s continued development and comeback. According to DEGC’s statistics, Detroit, since 2012, has seen almost $1 billion in automotive manufacturing invested in new and existing suppliers, $96 million invested in more than 14 full-service grocery stores, and a double-digit decrease in office vacancy rates. Additionally, Detroit is a growing hotspot for venture capital activities to the tune of $186 million in investments to 24 firms, most of which are tech-related.

Detroit is on the move, and DEGC has been there every step of the way.

Photo credit: Kory Woods


In June 2018, DEGC named South Carolina native Kevin D. Johnson as president and CEO.

“Our core mission at DEGC is to make sure the atmosphere in Detroit is conducive for entrepreneurship and economic growth and development,” said Kevin Johnson, DEGC’s president, and CEO. “Detroit is open for business.”

Johnson is well aware of the perception and misconception that many have that DEGC mainly focuses on downtown and midtown economic projects and initiatives. A claim, which he respectfully denies.

“Not so,” said Johnson. “I’ve learned that Detroit is made up of its neighborhoods. When neighborhoods are not achieving or performing at levels that provide the services Detroiters need, there’s this negative effect in those areas. What we want to do at DEGC is minimize that by creating and supporting programs that offer entrepreneurial growth and development in the neighborhoods.”

Since taking the reins of DEGC, Johnson has continued to drive the city’s leading nonprofit economic development entity to meet goals impacting revitalization and entrepreneurial projects and initiatives in downtown, midtown, and across Detroit neighborhoods. Such projects and initiatives are inclusive of Motor City Match, which has created almost 400 small businesses throughout the city.

“It’s hard to miss what’s big, and it’s much easier to miss what’s small,” said Johnson, in reference to projects going on in neighborhoods that may not get the media attention of bigger projects in downtown or midtown. “What we are trying to do at DEGC is make sure there is a heightened sense of awareness that entrepreneurial growth and development is occurring in the neighborhoods.”

Photo credit: Kory Woods

The work of Johnson and DEGC is being recognized around the country.

Site Selection Magazine named DEGC a top economic development group for 2019 and awarded DEGC with the prestigious Mac Conway Award for Excellence in Economic Development. The award recognizes the top local and regional economic development agencies in America. Significant projects noted were Fiat Chrysler, Arbe Robotics, and Flex-N-Gate. And, according to Site Selection Magazine, “DEGC’s Business Development team is leading Detroit’s first and only global commerce initiative.”

In addition, Johnson was named one of the Top 50 Economic Developers of 2019 by Consultant Connect, a highly touted consulting agency known internationally for its strategies to advance economic growth and development.

“The list recognizing North America’s Top 50 Economic Developers is designed to acknowledge the hard work of the top leaders in this field and elevate the conversation around economic development and job creation,” said Ron Kitchens, managing partner, Consultant Connect. “Each of the leaders represented on this year’s list is beyond deserving of this recognition for their efforts in building our communities.”

Johnson’s name on the list comes as no surprise to those who know his body of work.. \Johnson began his career in economic development in Anderson, South Carolina more than 30 years ago Before taking over the top executive position at DEGC, Johnson led Atlanta’s economic development program that created 31,000 jobs and generated $3.7 billion in new capital investment. He was instrumental in bringing 17 new corporate headquarters to Atlanta, including Porsche Cars North America. Before Atlanta, Johnson worked in economic growth and development management roles in Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina.

Now in Detroit, Johnson is focused on leading DEGC to new horizons.

“The Detroit Economic Growth Corporation strives to help Detroit continue to grow and thrive,” said Johnson. “I am very pleased to be a part of the city’s push toward greater opportunity and prosperity. I’m committed to circling the globe to tell the real Detroit story and why businesses and entrepreneurs need to be in the Motor City.”

Under Johnson’s leadership at DEGC, the organization’s goal is to create 10,000 jobs, open 140 small businesses and secure $3.4 billion of capital investment for the city into 2020. Johnson is up for the task. With Johnson’s track record and ability, it seems very likely that he will meet if not exceed his goal.

“Kevin Johnson is building on Detroit’s rich history to help turn the Motor City into the Mobility City,” said Jerry Norcia, president, and CEO of DTE Energy, and chair of DEGC’s Board of Directors. “Kevin recognizes that unless we invest in people, we won’t be able to sustain economic growth in Detroit. In his first year with the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, he has proven effective at bringing new business to the city, from a Tier One auto supplier to support the new FCA facility on the east side, to an autonomous automaker who has committed to setting up shop here. Kevin is traveling the world on behalf of Detroit, and we are looking forward to seeing the fruits of his labor in the coming years.”

“I’m committed to circling the globe to tell the real Detroit story and why businesses and entrepreneurs need to be in the Motor City,” Johnson said. “Detroit is open for business!”


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