According to a sampling of high-level private sector executives, Detroit is looking better and better for business. The Troy, Michigan-based Kresge Foundation polled business leaders last November to measure attitudes toward cities generally and Detroit in particular, following its economic recovery and emergence from bankruptcy in 2014. Of the 307 respondents, 98 percent said they believe it is possible for cities to overcome and recover from significant challenges. When asked specifically about Detroit, 84 percent expressed confidence that it would become a great American city once again.
The survey targeted senior leaders at mid- to large-size companies who have influence over their companies’ global, high-level decisions, oversee at least 250 employees, and are involved with contracting, purchasing, sales, or other related responsibilities.
They were asked to evaluate which amenities and services make a place attractive to business, in three categories: housing, infrastructure, and community; economy and public sector; and opportunities for the future. For the first theme, respondents ranked good public transportation top of the list, followed by a low crime rate, racial and cultural diversity, a low cost of living, a multitude of arts and cultural institutions, a rich cultural history, and a thriving art and music scene.
Among economic and public sector attributes, respondents ranked effective local government first, followed by a municipal balance sheet in the black, low taxes, high levels of community service, an active foundation and philanthropic sector, “a concentration of wealth among the top of the city’s residents,” and a strong nonprofit sector.
As for future opportunity, respondents prioritized cities looking to attract new investment, places with broadly shared economic opportunity, where individual companies can make a difference, and proximity to top colleges and universities. Among attributes across all three categories, the highest percentage of respondents ranked low taxes, perhaps unsurprisingly, as the number one most favorable attribute.
Despite its many economic and infrastructure challenges, Detroit received high marks in many of the survey categories. Respondents ranked Detroit’s diversity, cultural history, effective local government, low cost of living and low taxes positively. They also felt favorably about Detroit as a place with high levels of community service and looking to attract new investment. Seventy-one percent of all respondents said they see Detroit as a good place in which to invest for their business.
At the same time, respondents felt that Detroit must lower its crime rate and eliminate major debts in order to be attractive to business. Of those who felt Detroit cannot recover, and won’t become a great American city again, 19 percent said the city was too behind, with too many problems, 19 percent said there was too much crime, 15 percent cited poor leadership and local government, and 13 percent said it won’t recover because Detroit isn’t making improvements, and nothing has changed since its last major downturn. Only 16 percent of those surveyed were aware that the city has exited bankruptcy.
When asked what could further enhance the city’s recovery, respondents ranked a resurgence of the auto industry (23 percent ranked that first), new and innovative approaches to urban development (22 percent ranked first), and the emergence of new industries (21 percent ranked first).
Of the 307 respondents, 91 percent have a connection to Detroit, and 45 percent have had business operations and investments in Detroit. Sixty-two percent had been to the city, and among those, 60 percent had visited in the past two years. Positive impressions seem to be on the rise. Sixty-six percent of respondents had a favorable impression of the city based on what they’ve seen, heard or read recently.
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.