Duggan touts Detroit revitalization in State of the City address

Detroit resident Marcus Jones isn’t one of the “big guys” in the city’s business landscape.

He’s just a guy who, with business partner Akunna Olumba, wants to open a full dine-in restaurant with 22 employees, hopefully garnered from surrounding neighborhoods. Jones, a University of Michigan graduate who sells and renovates homes with Olumba, wants to open it in a boarded up part of McNichols that’s been vacant – there was nothing left in the building – for 10 years.

They’re hoping to develop the pizza bar with help from Invest Detroit, CDFI Fund and the city’s Strategic Neighborhood Fund. But Duggan acknowledged that Jones needs a boost.

“This is going to take a heavier lift,” he said.

After acknowledging the kinds of tax breaks given to the bigger businesses, Duggan said he’d be recommending a similar break for a guy like Jones.

“If it’s right for the large deals, it also should be right for the neighborhood deals, to push them over the top,” Duggan said in his State of the City address Tuesday night. The line drew one of his biggest rounds of applause of the night.

The speech was given by the second-term mayor at the Flex-N-Gate manufacturing center in the industrial park along I-94. Flex-N-Gate, according to published reports the largest investment by an automotive supplier in two decades, opened in October 2018 with hundreds of jobs, about half of which went to Detroit residents.

The Jones example was one Duggan used in talking about what he views as a revitalized city.

Among other things he discussed, Duggan talked about:

  • Detroit’s falling unemployment rate. He said some 25,000 more Detroiters have jobs now as opposed to six years ago, but also said more than 8,500 jobs are available in the city right now, with about half of them requiring some sort of post-high school certification.

He touted eight work centers around the city where training programs are available, and named several unions who offered free apprenticeship training programs.

The carpenters union, Duggan said, is building a 150,000-square-foot training facility to train 1,000 workers a year in Detroit.

“We have a lot of work to do to get (available) jobs filled with Detroiters,” Duggan said. “I believe we can build a city where everyone can have a job who wants one. That’s what I think is the Detroit of the future.”

  • Auto insurance rates. Duggan has long railed against the state’s no-fault auto insurance program. While Michigan’s annual average of more than $2,600 is double what it is in other Midwest states, Duggan said Tuesday it’s $4,100 in Detroit. He said the city will host a number of forums this spring in an effort to explain it all to residents and help them figure out how to reduce their rates. The reform measures take effect in July.
  • Assessments. He pointed out the issue of Detroit over-assessing homes “isn’t anything new.” Detroiters have been “living with this for a long time.” He said when the recession hit in 2009/10, property values dropped 60%. In 2010, Duggan said, the assessor didn’t drop assessed values enough.

“Today, we’ve got an assessment that pretty much tracks across the state,” Duggan said Tuesday. “I don’t tell you everyone is assessed perfectly … Today we are assessed fairly.”

  • Foreclosures. Duggan said there were more than 5,800 foreclosures in Detroit in 2015. Legislation passed – House Bill 5882, to be exact – that provided a payment schedule. Some 15,000 residents took advantage of it.

“In the first year, we avoided 15,000 foreclosures,” Duggan said.

Foreclosures have dropped from 5,810 in 2015 to 357 in 2019, the mayor said. “We have dropped foreclosures in the city by 94%,” Duggan said. “(But) It’s not enough.”