Chamber’s Inaugural Detroit Policy Conference Focuses on Inspiring Innovation in the Motor City

The Detroit Regional Chamber hosted the first ever Detroit Business Conference- a unique event focused on inspiring innovation and investment in the Motor City- on April 24 at the MotorCity Casino Hotel. The Conference brought together top corporate executives, community leaders and small business owners to engage in conversation on Detroit’s transformation. Read on for more extensive coverage.

Chris Ilitch Kicks Off Inaugural Detroit Business Conference

President and CEO of Ilitch Holdings, Inc. Chris Ilitch opened the Detroit Business Conference by saying there has never been a more important time to support the innovative minds and dynamic entrepreneurs of the Motor City, and thanked the Detroit Regional Chamber for gathering so many of them for the Conference. He challenged the audience to aim high and think big because Detroit’s best days are ahead and pointed to the Conference as a day truly dedicated to Detroit’s success.

Conference Welcomes Congressmen Hansen Clarke and Gary Peters

Congressmen Hansen Clarke and Gary Peters both addressed Conference attendees, headlining a large group of dignitaries and elected officials participating in or attending the Conference. Clarke highlighted the importance of inspiring taxpayers to take responsibility over their city and to be involved in restoring prosperity to the area. Peters focused on the importance of Detroit’s success to the region and state, stressing the significance of small business financing and a comprehensive regional transit system.

Deputy Mayor Kirk Lewis Discusses City Progress at Detroit Business Conference

Healthy, urban business is the key to economic success and a thriving environment, according to Detroit’s Deputy Mayor Kirk Lewis who served as the morning keynote speaker, noting that the rest of the country was closely watching the Motor City’s recovery.

“Everyone is watching Detroit; everyone is rooting for us,” Lewis said. “This is a tough time and we will see a tremendous turnaround, but it’s going to be painful and there are going to be ups and downs.”

Lewis focused on four ways the city is working toward creating a vibrant economic environment, including creating a financially stable city, focusing on reducing crime, building a world-class education system and making sure services for the business community and citizens are world-class. He explained how the city is working to achieve these goals through various programs and initiatives and how things like the recently signed consent agreement will come into play in realizing these goals.

Lewis thanked the Detroit Regional Chamber for its support of the mayor’s office. He credited the ability to reach out to local businesses as a huge asset to the city and said the help of organizations like the Chamber helped facilitate those positive interactions.

Former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams Shares Insight on Turning Detroit Around

Following an introduction from Dennis Archer, the Conference lunch keynote speaker, former Mayor of Washington, D.C. Anthony Williams, shared his insights on how Detroit can not only survive, but thrive. Williams, who served as mayor of D.C. from 1999 to 2007 and is largely credited with helping lead that city’s resurgence, spoke about the the economic challenges of both cities.

He said that Detroit, much like D.C. in the early 1990s, is going through the “cycles of the American city.” Williams said it’s important not to discount the city because it’s experiencing an economic ebb, but to realize that cities throughout history have experienced the same problems and have made their way back. Williams said in order to carry out a positive vision for Detroit, Detroiters need to stop thinking all factors are against them. He also said Detroit needs to be viewed as a livable city and will need to stay at the forefront of the return of American manufacturing. Williams encouraged attendees to continue to invite intellectual and philanthropic investment in the city.

Breakout Sessions Provide Detailed Look at Business Opportunities in Detroit

Attendees had the opportunity to participate in two of eight concurrent breakout sessions throughout the day and hear directly from panels on issues important to business and economic development. Forty-one panelists and moderators consisting of business leaders, education officials and community leaders contributed to the discussions. Morning panel sessions included discussions on development opportunities in Detroit, starting or expanding a business in the city, talent attraction and retention and collaboration and innovation in the Motor City. Afternoon panel discussions centered around available resources for small businesses.

Bedrock Real Estate Services Helping to Rebuild Detroit Block by Block

Bruce Schwartz and Jim Ketai of Bedrock Real Estate Services LLC took the stage to share how their company, an affiliate of Rock Ventures, is helping to revitalize Detroit block by block. Bedrock, created by Dan Gilbert, is a full service property management firm focused on bringing business and people to Detroit under the vision of learning to live, work and play within the city.

Bedrock takes property management duties from start to finish, following a standard method of investment, building, energizing and populating. Bedrock is responsible for the renovation and revitalization of institutional Detroit buildings including the Chase Building and the M@dison Building. Schwartz said the Rock Ventures family of companies has and continues to recruit thousands of employees to downtown Detroit, with a goal of bringing the city back in full force and better than it’s ever been, sooner rather than later.

“We encourage everyone to do this with us, but at the same time, we aren’t waiting around. But we can’t do it alone,” Schwartz said.

Panel Discusses Importance of Urban Investment at Detroit Business Conference

Three key executives from some of Detroit’s largest corporations joined moderator John Gallagher, of the Detroit Free Press, during the afternoon urban investment panel. The panel consisted of Tricia Keith, vice president, corporate secretary and services, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM); Mike Duggan, president and CEO, Detroit Medical Center; and Paul Czarnik, executive vice president and chief technology officer, Compuware.

During the session, panelists discussed the benefits of the M1 rail, the importance of entrepreneurship, how to foster public-private partnerships, the importance of local sourcing and difficulties in business recruiting and retaining talent in the city.

“We have a difficult time recruiting outside of the Midwest,” Keith said. “But they change their minds’ when they get here.” She said BCBSM has a 95.3 percent satisfaction rate from employees who now work downtown.

Check out photos from the 2012 Detroit Policy Conference.

Take a Look at What Speakers and Attendees Had to Say About the Detroit Business Conference:

“There has never been a more important time to support business and innovation. This is truly a day dedicated to Detroit’s success and potential.” – Chris Ilitch, President and CEO, Ilitch Holdings, Inc.

“As a small business owner with over 15 years of attending the Mackinac Policy Conference, I understand better the value proposition small business owners are confronted with and believe the inaugural Detroit Business Conference is the solution.” – Terence Thomas, Co-Founder, Thomas Consulting Group

“The Conference is a ‘must attend’ for all businesspeople in the area. Beyond the great advice and insight into business opportunities and resources, the optimism and hope was very inspiring. Most important, I saw the true leadership is still alive and well in Detroit.” Prudence Cole, Founder and President, being@work, Inc.

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