On Thursday, March 18, the Chamber brought together city and local leaders for Advocacy in Action: The Big Four, a discussion about the region’s biggest economic issues. Joining the conversation were David Coulter, executive for Oakland County, Mike Duggan, mayor of the City of Detroit, Warren Evans, executive for Wayne County, and Mark Hackel, executive for Macomb County. The leaders were joined by Carol Cain, senior producer and host of CBS 62 Michigan Matters and columnist for the Detroit Free Press, who moderated the conversation.
In the last 12 months, the region has been impacted not only by the COVID-19 pandemic, but also by the economic fallout of the virus, as well as major social justice movements. With the government at the center of all three, collaboration and cooperation have never been more important for these Metro Detroit leaders.
“We put our nose to the grindstone and try to do good work here. Collaboration matters,” said Coulter. “No individual can do something this long by themselves. We took that approach to all of our issues before COVID, and this has been an example of regional cooperation.”
For Evans and Hackel, the pandemic brought out skills from their former careers in law enforcement, particularly the ability to quickly adjust in emergency situations.
“The ability to pivot right or left was extremely helpful. And I think the early testing is something that shows the cooperation and collaboration together,” said Evans. “Mayor Duggan did a great job of gearing up so quickly and making testing available for those of us who were still ramping up.”
Vaccine Updates: Where the Region is Now
Though there was a large vaccine shortage early on in the vaccination process, numbers have begun to steadily increase. In Detroit, the rate of vaccination has increased from 5,000 per week to the Health Department now delivering over 30,000 per week. To support that increase, a community vaccination site is set to officially open on March 24 at Ford Field in Detroit.
“Ford Field is going to help for Southeastern Michigan. And it’s going to be for everybody in the state. It’s a great step forward and gives people choices,” said Duggan.
While three vaccines, Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, are approved an in production, the demand continues to be larger than the supply. The potential of the city and counties is limited by the number of doses being supplied, noted Hackel. And while vaccinations numbers continue to rise, the region is far from herd immunity.
“We need to ramp up production at the manufacturing level. We could distribute more if we had it,” said Coulter. “We are seeing an increase in the amount of people being vaccinated. We all want to see us get to the 70% plus, so we can get to this herd immunity. We are making signification progress towards that. In Oakland County we are close to 26% of eligible population [being] vaccinated.”
Adds Warren, “This is not over. We’ve seen a spike in Wayne County in the last month, and so people need to understand that this isn’t over, and it will be over much sooner if everyone will just take a deep breath and continue to do the right things for the next couple of months.”
As vaccination numbers continue to rise, and the general population becomes eligible to receive the vaccine, the focus is going to shift to obtaining herd immunity, which could be a challenge in some areas due to vaccine hesitancy among certain populations.
“We saw from the beginning of this pandemic that one size fits all doesn’t work. We know that certain communities were more heavily impacted by COVID, especially some of our minority communities and harder to reach communities,” said Coulter. “We know there is still hesitancy in some populations and so we leaned into that and used some of our C.A.R.E.S dollars for a public education campaign especially targeted at people who may be reluctant.”
Adds Hackel, “Are we going to get close to this 60% or 70%? I don’t know, I’m not one of the experts, but I always say that’s who people need to listen to, the experts, the people that are the scientists behind this, people in the medical profession, and your doctors.”
President Biden’s newly released American Rescue Plan includes a large amount of money for local governments, which raises the question of what different cities and counties are planning to do with the funding.
Each county and city are expected to receive varying amounts, with Detroit receiving the most in federal dollars:
- Wayne County: $340 million
- Oakland County: $244 million
- Macomb County: $171 million
- City of Detroit: $880 million
Plans are in the works for how these dollars will be allocated, but final decisions largely depend on the legal parameters, and guidance from the Treasury Department in terms of rules for spending (guidance that has not yet been released).
“The immediate thing it allows us to do is make up for revenue shortfall. We are recalling 750 partially laid off city employees. We are now going to be able to ramp back up to full city services, pre-pandemic levels,” said Duggan. “We were short $180 million dollars in revenue last year, so the first thing the money will do is fill in holes so that services continue.”
“We are trying to plan out not just for current needs, but future needs. This pandemic has really wakened us up to the need to have the right type of health care system and health departments in your communities that can handle these type of pandemics in the future,” said Hackel. “So there are going to be some capital improvement projects when it comes to the health department.”
Impacts on the Commercial Real Estate Market
The economy has been devastated in many ways by the pandemic, particularly across the commercial real estate market, which has an impact on a number of industries. In Detroit, the market has remained steady, as large projects including auto plants, the new Huntington Bank headquarters, the Hudson project, a new jail, and more continue to develop.
“Right now there is more construction going on in Detroit than at any point in the last 50 years,” said Duggan. “What none of us knows is a year from now, two years from now, three years from now what does an office workplace look like. Is there still the same demand for a lot of collaborative people in high rise office space, or is it going to be more stopping in two or three days a week in the office, and working from home? I think it’s going to be at least a year before we know the answer to that.”
As the economy works to recover from the pandemic, and the private sector considers their workplace needs including the need for office space, the public sector is considering some of the same issues.
“Our workforce is far different from what it once was, so even our need for space that we currently occupy is going to be questioned. Remote work is going to be something that is a move into the future,” said Hackel. “Things are going to change, the question is how we can make it for the better, as we go through this, and more cost effective.”