‘Keep Our Kids at Home’: Pancakes & Politics Recap a Conversation with Billionaire Businessman Dan Gilbert

Thursday morning, a diverse crowd of approximately 400 individuals representing various businesses throughout Detroit gathered for the 19th Michigan Chronicle’s Pancakes & Politics Speakers’ Forum series on the 16th floor of Campus Martius One. The audience, a melting pot of Southeast Michigan’s vibrant community, was there to engage in a dialogue that has, over the years, become a cornerstone event for tackling the region’s and, more specifically, Detroit’s Black community’s pressing issues. Again, the forum’s reputation as a catalyst for meaningful discourse on Detroit’s socio-economic landscape was fully displayed.

Pancakes & Politics consistently catalyzes propelling Detroit towards growth, be it in economic or social spheres, and the latest edition was no exception. At the heart of the discussion, this year was billionaire Dan Gilbert, who delved into a comprehensive exploration of Detroit’s development, emphasizing a holistic approach that extends beyond the confines of downtown to encompass the entire city. This initiative is more than just a series of discussions; it represents a sustained movement, a commitment to the city’s future, underpinned by the CEO of Real Times Media and Publisher of Michigan Chronicle, Hiram Jackson’s long-term vision for Detroit’s prosperity.

As dawn broke over Detroit, the event kicked off with a live stream partnered with WDIV that captured the attention of many, heralding a new chapter in the ‘Pancakes and Politics’ series. The dialogue between Gilbert and Dennis Archer, Jr. is seasoned with live audience questions and insights from WDIV’s Christy McDonald and Michigan Chronicle Executive Editor Jeremy Allen. The audience had an opportunity to engage and paint a comprehensive picture of Detroit’s current state and its trajectory straight from the minds of our local businesses, entrepreneurs, developers, and everyone in between.

This year’s edition was particularly poignant, aptly titled ‘A Conversation with Dan Gilbert.’ The focus was clear: addressing the critical challenges and opportunities within Detroit, with an eye towards a holistic improvement beyond downtown. Gilbert, alongside Archer Jr., delved into various topics, each underscoring the forum’s overarching theme of propelling the city into a future marked by prosperity and inclusivity.

The forum’s discussions ventured into diverse territories, from Gilbert’s recovery journey following his stroke to the broader narrative of youth retention in Michigan. The emphasis was on creating an environment where young individuals seek opportunities and envision a future within the state’s borders. This conversation extended to the housing market, where Gen Z’s aspirations for homeownership were highlighted as a pivotal element of the American dream.

The vitality of Detroit, a city on the rise, hinges significantly on its ability to retain and attract young talent. “Keep our kids at home,” expressed Gilbert. As Michigan’s economic and cultural hub, Detroit offers a unique blend of opportunities that particularly appeal to the younger demographic. The city’s ongoing growth and revitalization provides fertile ground for innovation, entrepreneurship, and creative endeavors, making it an attractive destination for ambitious young professionals. By fostering an environment that supports and nurtures the aspirations of the youth, Detroit ensures a dynamic and sustainable workforce and injects fresh energy and ideas into its communities. This, in turn, fuels the city’s continuous evolution as a vibrant, forward-thinking metropolis capable of competing nationally and globally. Keeping young people in Michigan and drawing in new talent are crucial strategies for maintaining the momentum of Detroit’s resurgence, ensuring the city remains a beacon of progress and opportunity.

“The number one issue in not only Detroit but the state of Michigan is keeping our young people here,” said Gilbert. “Most of these graduates are going to New York, Chicago, or LA and all throughout the summer parents will brag on how their kids have moved to these cities but the reality is that we need to keep them here in Detroit. The investment that the state makes is billions of dollars a year so we’re investing our tax money to train these students and when those kids leave those states are getting the benefit and that’s crazy.”

Anticipation for the upcoming NFL draft was no surprise, signifying not just a sporting event but a milestone in Detroit’s ongoing narrative of renewal and vibrancy. The discourse also navigated the dynamics of downtown development and hospitality, underlining the critical choices in fostering a welcoming atmosphere for residents and visitors alike. The conversation encapsulated the essence of urban living, where the availability of quality dining and accommodation options plays a crucial role in shaping a city’s appeal. Hospitality was a hot topic in Gilbert’s take on the upcoming massive event. He emphasized that good food, nice hotels, drinks, and atmosphere are all attributes that attracts people to the city and more and more have come to see what Detroit is all about – Gilbert believes that this trajectory is going to just continue to grow.

Moreover, the forum was open to addressing the needs of the small business community, recognizing its vital contribution to the fabric of Detroit’s economy and culture. The dialogue underscored the necessity of nurturing an ecosystem that supports entrepreneurial ventures, ensuring they thrive and, in turn, contribute to the city’s resurgence.

This year, a notable milestone was the announcement of a new partnership between Jackson and Bob Ellis, Vice President and general manager of WDIV. This collaboration signifies a pivotal convergence of Black press and broadcast media in Detroit, highlighting the critical role of such mergers in amplifying local voices and narratives.

This fusion of black press with mainstream broadcast media is more than a strategic alliance; it is a profound statement on the importance of inclusive storytelling and representation in media. By bringing these two powerful platforms together, the partnership promises to enhance the reach and impact of stories that matter to Detroit’s communities, ensuring that diverse perspectives are heard and acknowledged. This move broadens the audience for Detroit’s pressing issues and reinforces the city’s rich tapestry of experiences, challenges, and triumphs, setting a precedent for other cities to follow.

Pancakes and Politics stands out not merely for its influence but for its authenticity and effortless embodiment of Black excellence. The dialogue covered a spectrum of vital topics, from Black Tech Saturdays to the pivotal role of Black developers, among other significant subjects. This year marked a departure from tradition in terms of venue, yet Campus Martius One rose to the occasion. The event was hosted on the top floor, symbolically elevating the discussions on Black progress to new heights, reinforcing the event’s core mission of fostering meaningful conversations that drive advancement. 

As the forum concluded, the resonance of the discussions lingered, leaving attendees with a renewed sense of commitment toward Detroit’s transformation journey. Once again, the Michigan Chronicle’s Pancakes & Politics proved a beacon of hope and action, uniting diverse voices in a shared vision for a thriving Detroit. The narrative that unfolded at this year’s event was not just about reflection. Still, a call to action, echoing the sentiment that the city’s future is bright, provided we all contribute to its narrative of progress and inclusivity.

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