City of Ecorse studies region’s workforce assets and needs

Just before Christmas, U.S. Steel announced it would be idling its plants and laying off more than 1500 workers in Ecorse and River Rouge. While the news was not welcome, neither was it entirely unexpected. Downriver communities have been dealing with the impacts of deindustrialization and plant closures for decades.


"The reality is places like Ecorse have struggled in the last 30, 40 years with de-industrialization, loss of population, and loss of tax base," says Larry Steckelberg, administrator of the Community Services Division within the Michigan Department of Treasury. "The path forward is to try and redevelop and recreate economic activity in the community."


The City of Ecorse has been working diligently to diversify its economy, stabilize its housing, and leverage its assets in recent years, according to City Administrator Richard Marsh. He points to the city’s focus on redevelopment of the Mill Street property, planning for the redevelopment of the Jefferson Corridor through Ecorse and River Rouge, and the creation of a new Downtown Development Authority to help guide commercial redevelopment as examples of the City of Ecorse taking hold of its future.


“Ecorse has recognized that we need to be proactive about our economic development,” says Marsh. ”We are the architects of our future.”


Marsh also points to efforts to create a strong quality of life for Ecorse residents, including its neighborhood stabilization program that acquires and rehabilitates residential properties and bundles vacant properties for residential redevelopment. Finally, Marsh points to the city’s plan to enhance its recreational assets, including the creation of bicycle lanes along Jefferson Avenue and kayak infrastructure along Ecorse Creek that will connect to the region’s land and water trails as the city’s “crowning jewel.”


“People love water,” says Marsh, “and Ecorse’s location right on the Detroit River gives us a huge competitive asset that we need to take advantage of.”


Steckelberg says that his office has begun to be more proactive about working with municipalities like Ecorse that have emerged from state receivership or might be in financial distress, helping them to chart a course for new economic paths and adapting their workforce to leverage new opportunities.


"Treasury has had a longstanding function of oversight of local finance," says Steckelberg. "But we've been much more proactive in the last several years. The idea is that if we can reach into the community early and help them overcome those problems, we can avoid further and deeper problems in the future."


One of the ways Ecorse is working to chart its path forward is through evaluating the assets, needs, and potential of its workforce.


Representatives of the Ecorse Mill Street Site Readiness Team (Kyle Seidel, AEW; Paula Boase, DCC; Councilman Donald Agee Jr.; Mayor Lamar Tidwell; Mayor Pro Tem Darcel Brown; Councilman John Miller; Megan Napier, AKT Peerless; Larry Steckelberg, Michigan Dept. of Treasury; Sally Hodges, McKenna; Richard Marsh, City Administrator). (Other members of the team not present in the photo include Nicole Whitehead, MEDC; Eric Cline, Michigan Dept. of Treasury; Dan Gough, Michigan EGLE; Kennis Wooten, DTE; Jim Perry, DCC; Vince Ranger, MDOT; Terri Beaumont, City of Ecorse)

The city is currently embarking on a project to develop regional talent profiles as part of its initiative to redevelop the Mill Street property in the city's southwest section, which formerly housed a steel plant. The site is being targeted for light-industrial, mixed-use. Ecorse was one of 43 communities selected for the first round of Michigan Site Readiness grants designed to support communities in marketing old industrial properties facing challenges to redevelopment. The $100,000 grant will allow Ecorse to address environmental contamination issues, create a conceptual site plan and access plan, plan for enhanced recreational assets and habitat, as well as to study talent and workforce assets and gaps to support future employment at the site.


"In economic development, workforce matters," says Sally Hodges, Ecorse's city planner with McKenna consultants. "One of a company’s considerations when selecting a site is the availability of sufficient properly skilled employees. Ideally, the employee base is matched to the employers – the supply and demand are in balance."


The information to be gathered in this study will be a valuable tool for understanding the area’s talent and workforce, according to Hodges. Data from multiple sources will be evaluated in a model that will describe the availability and location of talent in the region, including pipelines to build future talent including educational institutions, business schools, technical training programs, workforce support training, and others. City officials and prospective employers can then use that data to understand the types of skills that are in demand and understand the resources available to supply those skills.

Ecorse City Administrator Richard Marsh leads a workgroup to study the region's workforce and talent assets and needs.

Jim Perry, executive director of the Downriver Community Conference, says part of that equation will certainly involve a focus on training in the skilled trades.

"The way forward is going to have to be getting our young people involved in the building trades, the electrical trade, all of the skilled trades," says Perry. "Going to college costs a lot of money. Going to a trade school trade, you go to work and earn while you learn. We want to keep our young folks here, and for that, we need quality job quality good-paying jobs in the skilled trades."

City of Ecorse Administrator Richard Marsh is looking forward to having more information on the region's workforce as he works to attract companies to the city.

"In the Downriver area, we're known to have a workforce with a good work ethic," says Marsh. "It will be a matter of if we have the availability of enough workers, because of how the economy is going right now, to fill some of the positions that are available."

According to Hodges, the information gleaned in the workforce study will have immediate and practical use as the city markets not only the Mill Street property, but projects across the city.

"Armed with the talent profiles, the City and its partners will be able to target and market to specific types of businesses for the Mill Street site (and elsewhere in the City) that utilize employees with the skills available," she says. "On the supply side, by understanding what work skills people in the City have, community leaders can make judgments about whether there is an adequate supply of workers to support desired new businesses and industry."

And if the data shows a prospective shortage in a particular area, steps can be taken to fill the gap by networking with technical and community colleges, and investing in other training programs and initiatives to fill current, as well as changing labor market needs, according to Hodges.

"The ultimate goal is to have a pool of talent with the skills needed to fill the positions that come with new development, fostering full employment and added tax base for the City," says Hodges.

"I think we're sitting right on the cusp of hoping to see some good things in our future. I just feel it," says Perry. "I know it's going to happen one step at a time, and I know we'll do it the right way."

Interested parties should inquire with Richard Marsh at 313-386-2520.

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