Detroit has been experiencing an economic resurgence following the city’s 2013 historic bankruptcy. It’s been fueled in part by the massive property investment in downtown buildings by local billionaire businessman Dan Gilbert.
The Motor City appears ready for another economic comeback after nearly three years of the COVID-19 pandemic which halted a lot of the city’s progress.
The city’s unemployment rate spiked to more than 38 percent in May of 2020, during the height of the pandemic.
During the early stages of downtown’s revival after 2013, more people began to populate the city’s central core, bustling from new offices to increased residential development.
A complete contrast from the after 5 p.m. ghost town the area withstood only 15 years ago.
As downtown’s growth 10 years ago began to escalate faster than overall neighborhoods, newcomers changing the racial make-up of an otherwise majority Black city became more evident.
This early new reality called into question: who might be targeted for downtown’s progress. It appeared certainly not for longtime residents on the verge of being pushed out from rising rents only to make way for newcomers who could afford the pricey newly renovated stay. The city’s progress – certainly not for legacy Detroiters, many of whom lacked the skillset for job opportunities in industries and spaces that began to flood the zone downtown.
The murder of George Floyd in 2020 brought with it a racial reckoning across the nation, leading many government and business sectors to embrace diversity and inclusion efforts.
Over the course of time, the Mike Duggan mayoral administration instilled policy and efforts to shield from the likes of other urban cities which have lost legacy residents due to growing gentrification.
One could wonder how does city government ensure no Detroiter is pushed out or left behind? After all, this is an economic environment not too far removed from households not being able to afford the once high costs of gas, prices for groceries, rising cost of housing, and at one time lacked the talent pool and skillset for Amazon headquarters to land here.
The city would argue it has done an enormous amount of work to be inclusive and ensure gaps are being closed to fill over 8,000 jobs currently open. City officials say they’ve been doing the work to keep legacy Detroiters in their homes, opening the door to more affordable housing, connecting residents to jobs and introducing resources such as training and paid educational programs to help residents obtained basic or new skillsets for jobs employers have available.
“There is no shortage of opportunity for legacy Detroiters who need to brush up on their skills and/or understand what the current economy and job market demands of all of us,” said Nicole Sherard-Freeman, the mayor’s group executive for Jobs, the Economy and Detroit at Work. “There’s Learn to Earn skill building, adult basic education, GED completion and the high school completion on the academic side.”
Sherard-Freeman has led the charge with a portfolio which oversees new employers setting up shop in the city, from Amazon’s distribution center expected to add 1,200 jobs, to the Detroit at Work program connecting Detroiters to training and open jobs in construction/skills trade, health care, information technology and a variety of other fields.
And as much as city officials seem to be pushing every effort and policy to get Detroiters involved and trained for jobs, it just might not be enough.
“There is still a concern [about] folks who are legacy Detroiters, have the skillset for the job that we talk about, are going to be a part of Detroit’s economic impact,” said Portia Roberson, CEO of Focus: HOPE, a Detroit based non-profit, aiming to overcome racism and poverty by providing education and job training.
“We are always concerned about whether the students we receive from DPSCD have the ability to come into a program like ours and immediately start training to get a certain certificate or skill.”
Roberson states her organization devotes a considerable amount of time getting students up to par on basics.
“I’m a strong proponent that it starts with education and it being the pathway and fundamental part of the workforce,” she says. “We have to look at systemic issues [housing banks loans] and I’m not sure if that’s the city’s role, but if we’re not involved in talking about those issues as well, you’re definitely not going to see the resurgence that you desperately want to see.”