Detroit Chamber: Southeast Michigan Doing Well, But Lags On Regional Transit

December 6, 2019


Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson

The debate continues over the need for a robust and fully funded Regional Transit Authority connecting all Southeast Michigan.

Wayne, Oakland, and Washtenaw counties are all moving forward on that issue together. But Macomb County, which narrowly defeated the last attempt to find regional transit, will sit this round out.

What does that mean for regional cooperation moving forward?

On Thursday, the Detroit Regional Chamber released its annual “State of the Region” report. It shows the region is doing well in many areas. But there is still a lot of work to do, and transit is one of those areas where the region lags far behind other major metropolitan areas in the U.S.

We have a lot of wins to celebrate,” says Detroit Regional Chamber CEO Sandy Baruah. “I think if we go back in time ten years ago and if any one of us had predicted that Detroit, the city, the region, and, frankly, the state would be in the position where we are now. I think we would have all said to each other that, ‘No, you’re crazy. We’re not going to make that much progress.’ But we have.”

However, he says, that progress has slowed a bit.

We are not progressing as fast, we’re not making as much progress, in the last two years than we were in the previous three-to-four… (there’s) a little bit of a slow-down,” he says. “We’re still growing, make no mistake. This is still a positive picture. But we’re not growing as fast as our peers in some of the national numbers.”

But he says that transit is an area that must improve to help people and businesses alike.

Our current access to public transit for the citizens of this region is completely inadequate and we need to do better,” says Baruah, who notes that Metro Detroit ranks worst among major metropolitan areas across the country. “We care about this because the best way to make companies that are based in our region, large and small, and the people in our region prosperous is to allow people mobility.”

Baruah notes that it’s harder to build out transit now that federal funding for those projects isn’t as available as it used to be.

Our regional would have been so much better now had we done this in the 1960s and 70s,” he says.

Listen to the discussion here.

Detroit Chamber backs Whitmer for governor

October 17, 2018

The Detroit News

By: Jonathan Oosting

The Detroit Regional Chamber is recommending voters split their tickets on Nov. 6 with new endorsements that include Democrat Gretchen Whitmer for governor and Republican Tom Leonard for attorney general.

The business group announced Wednesday it is also backing Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow for re-election, Republican-nominated Michigan Supreme Court justices Beth Clement and Kurtis Wilder, and incumbent U.S. House members from both sides of the aisle.

The gubernatorial endorsement is a notable pickup for Whitmer in her race against Republican Bill Schuette, who is backed by most other major business advocacy organizations, including the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Grand Rapids Chamber and Business Leaders for Michigan.

They are competing to take on term-limited Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican whom the chamber endorsed in 2010 and 2014.

But it’s Whitmer, the Democrat, who is “best suited to carry forward the positive trajectory established the last eight years and better reflects the Chamber’s key priorities,” Brad Williams, vice president of government relations, said in a statement.

“While it is rare for an elected official to be fully aligned with the Chamber’s pro-growth and pro-smart investment policies, Whitmer’s strong support for regional transit, funding for critical infrastructure, and her past support for the Detroit Grand Bargain, Healthy Michigan, and the Gordie Howe International Bridge make her the candidate that best aligns with the Chamber’s agenda.”

If elected, Whitmer said she’s “ready to partner with the Detroit Chamber and everyone else who wants to make Michigan the place people move to for opportunity again.”

The endorsements announced Wednesday were decided by the Detroit chamber’s political action committee and required a two-thirds vote among board members.

The PAC did not endorse in the 11th Congressional District race between Democrat Haley Stevens and Republican Lena Epstein, who are competing to replace retiring Rep. Dave Trott, R-Birmingham.

Board members also didn’t reach consensus on a preferred candidate in the Secretary of State race between Democrat Jocelyn Benson and Republican Mary Treder Lang.

In endorsing Leonard over Democrat Dana Nessel in the attorney general’s race, the chamber said the state House speaker and former Genesee County assistant prosecutor has “consistently exercised the judgment needed to hold wrongdoers accountable, create an environment hospitable to growth, and represent the people’s interest.”

The chamber did not endorse in the Republican primary to take on Stabenow and is again backing her in her general election match-up against Farmington Hills businessman John James, who was endorsed this month by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Stabenow “has been a tremendous champion for Michigan in Congress,” Williams said.

In one of the state’s most closely watched congressional campaigns, the Detroit chamber endorsed incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop of Rochester over Democratic challenger Elissa Slotkin of Holly.

The chamber also endorsed re-election bids by incumbent Republican Reps. Jack Bergman, Bill Huizenga, John Moolenaar, Fred Upton, Tim Walberg and Paul Mitchell, along with Democratic Reps. Debbie Dingell Brenda Lawrence and 9th District favorite Andy Levin, a Democrat running to replace his retiring father Rep. Sander Levin.

View the original article here

Statement on RTA “Connect Southeast Michigan” Plan

“We are disappointed that the Southeast Michigan leaders represented on the Regional Transit Authority were unable to agree upon a plan to move our region’s transit system forward.  When the quality of transit systems in large urban areas across our country are ranked, our region’s transit system consistently falls near the bottom of the list – and that state of affairs is badly complicating life for many of our citizens.

“Strong mass transit benefits everyone, directly or indirectly.  It connects residents with jobs, education, health care and entertainment.  It spurs economic development and improves the quality of life.

“At the Mackinac Policy Conference in May, more than 250 companies and nonprofits called for a plan to improve transit in our region.  That call for action will persist, despite today’s setback, and we remain committed to working with our region’s leaders to achieve this goal.”

Sandy Baruah, President and CEO, Detroit Regional Chamber; Gerry Anderson, Chairman and CEO, DTE Energy; and the 250+ Employers for Transit Coalition

Statement from Detroit Regional Chamber on RTA Ballot Results

DETROIT, November 9, 2016 – Detroit Regional Chamber President and CEO Sandy Baruah issued the following statement on the failing of the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan millage.

“To say we’re disappointed is an understatement. However, we respect the will of the voters and will continue to seek solutions to connect our region and provide mobility to those without access to personal vehicles.”

About the Detroit Regional Chamber

Serving the business community for more than 100 years, the Detroit Regional Chamber is one of the oldest, largest and most respected chambers of commerce in the country. The Chamber’s mission of powering the economy for Southeast Michigan is carried out through economic development, education reform, regional collaboration and providing valuable benefits to members. For more information, please visit


‘Yes’ Vote on Connected Transit System Essential to Region’s Future

A Roadmap for Economic Resilience

By Sandy K. Baruah

Transit. This seven-letter word has been on the hearts and minds of Michiganders for over a decade. To some it represents economic opportunity, while to others it is a lifeline to family, hospitals, and other essential services.

Over 100 years ago, business leaders from this region identified transportation and the ability to move individuals and products safely and efficiently as one of the primary challenges facing the region. A century later we are still dealing with this fundamental issue. Transit in the Detroit region has fared poorly compared to other metropolitan regions across the country, with studies placing the region near the bottom.

From the perspective of the business community in our region, lack of a safe, reliable connected transit system linking Southeast Michigan’s four counties (Oakland, Macomb, Wayne and Washtenaw) is a missed opportunity. According to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, 92 percent of the region’s jobs are not reachable within 60 minutes using our current transit options. That is simply unacceptable.

I have lived with coordinated public transit most of my life. In my former hometowns of Portland and Washington, D.C., I have seen firsthand the economic impact that transit can have on cities and surrounding suburban communities. If we desire to be a world-class city and region, coordinated public transit is an absolute necessity.

The Chamber applauds the hard work and dedication of our elected leaders, who, along with the RTA Board of Directors, came together on an agreement that benefits all residents in the region. This compromise is an extension of the type of collaborative leadership that has become the hallmark of our elected leaders. Gone are the days of divisiveness and “go it alone” mentality, replaced by strong leaders who do not shy away from tough decisions while working collaboratively to erase the “dotted lines” on the map.

Now it is our turn as voters. Metro Detroiters face an unprecedented opportunity to chart a new path forward for our region’s long-term economic prosperity by voting “yes” on transit in November.

The proposal voters will be asked to approve is the very definition of “bang for the buck” and offers a path forward we desperately need. The benefits will be felt throughout the entire region. For the first time, we will have connected communities that allow residents to navigate via public transit, regardless of political boundaries, and job-hunters will be able to answer “yes” when a job application asks whether they have reliable transportation.

Not only is it the right thing to do for our businesses, it is the human thing to do for our residents. A properly funded transit system will also provide seniors and people with disabilities with increased independence and better access to employment, health care and family.

Finally, Detroit and our other cities will be able to compete on equal footing in the battle for talent — a critical need for employers starving for qualified employees to close the gap. It is not enough to simply say, “come check us out.” In study after study, millennials put regional transit at the top of their wish list when considering their career. If we truly want to be a contender for the next generation of talent, we must have the infrastructure in place that attracts and retains our young people and can safely and reliably get them from their home to their job and to our world-class colleges and universities.

By voting yes for robust transit to connect Southeast Michigan, we will be able to grow and compete with other regions, build for the future and ensure a better collective quality of life for all.