Blog: George W. Jackson

The Tigers are at bat in the American League Series, and it's no stretch to say the city of Detroit is going to bat for a variety of businesses. This week, George W. Jackson, CEO of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, discusses the city's investment, job numbers, and its game plan for the Belleview site and extension of downtown's RiverWalk.

Post 3: Swinging for the Fences

Comerica Park is known around Major League Baseball as a pitchers' park because of the long distances to the outfield fences. It gives up fewer home runs than a lot of other places – Yankee Stadium among them. To win here, teams have to be able to score many ways – from strings of walks and singles, stolen bases, sacrifice bunts and well-placed drives for extra-base hits.

From an economic development perspective, Detroit itself has been trying to shake a reputation as a "pessimists park," because people don't think it's a place that allows many "home run" business investments. I don't think that's necessarily true – and we've got a billion-dollar Marathon refinery project, about $700 million in recent auto assembly plant reinvestments, and $800 million in hospital construction in the works to back up my case.

Even so, we can't depend only on major investments to turn around the whole city, or even an important district such as greater downtown. That's why we have been steadily directing our attention to small- and medium-sized businesses to make economic scores for the city.  We are doing this by contacting several hundred business owners every year to assess their needs, and by launching new programs to fill gaps or address targeted industries. Our SmartBuildings Detroit energy conservation grant program has awarded $6.4 million to leverage investments of more than $62 million by 19 different businesses, cultural institutions or government agencies. The Green Grocer Project has worked with more than a dozen independent grocers, giving them operational technical assistance, financing, city permits and connections to other resources. Our brownfield program has potentially leveraged $610 million in investments with $101 million in incentives.

For all its work with small businesses, DEGC has earned national recognition from the Initiative for Inner City Competitiveness, an organization that promotes and nurtures growing urban businesses all over the U.S. Later this month, the ICIC is conducting one of its national small business training events here. Several dozen Detroit-based businesses are likely to join almost 50 others from around the country to attend educational sessions about different forms of capital and how to effectively communicate with bankers and investors. We welcome all those guests, because as they grow, they may find Detroit a great place to expand.

It's pretty clear from our track record that while we continue to "swing for the fences" with major job growth, we continue to score with help for companies that is transforming individual neighborhoods and the city as a whole.