Single Point of Contact Critical to Regional Success
New Spirit of Collaboration at Heart of Transformational Projects
Written by: Jim Martinez

The way Charles Stewart Mott Foundation President and CEO Ridgway White saw it, having investors come into the Detroit Region and get slogged down bouncing between its 348 cities, townships and counties was undercutting his foundation’s work to revitalize its hometown of Flint.

“One of the reasons we joined the Detroit Regional Partnership as an investor was that we saw some structural challenges. People weren’t working together,” said White during a panel discussion at the Detroit Regional Partnership’s annual meeting on March 14.

“One point of contact is absolutely critical and makes it so you can do business. And that’s just emblematic of all the things that we’re doing to work together more.”

That approach is present in the Detroit Regional Partnership’s Verified Industrial Properties program – which serves as a portal for site selectors to quickly assess large vacant industrial sites. The portal includes two key properties the Mott Foundation has provided grants to get development ready – the iconic 353-acre former Buick City site in Flint, and a 1,009-acre site in Mundy Township.

The massive Mundy site, with access to utilities and water, is the type of megasite that is becoming harder to find near major metros in a hot industrial market. “That’s put Flint back on the map for future projects. And so when big projects are coming through (looking for a site), we get a peek now,” said White, who sits on the board of the DRP.

It reflects what DRP Board Chair Gerry Anderson envisioned, as then-executive chairman of DTE Energy, when he spearheaded launching the DRP in 2019 to attract jobs and investment to the Detroit Region. “(Five years ago, site selectors) told us the region did not have its act together, we were not well coordinated, and we openly competed against each other. They told us, we were simply a hard region to work with, and that was limiting our opportunities to grow,” said Anderson. “Unlike most of our peer regions we had no single point of contact, which made it difficult to quickly get good data on opportunities to locate here.”

For Anderson, and DRP President and CEO Maureen Donohue Krauss, the organization’s success from 2020 to 2023 –  $8.6 billion in new investment and 33,000 jobs created through 102 projects – demonstrates how economic development is the “ultimate team sport,” work that is buoyed by other public-private partnerships led by the Mott Foundation and Henry Ford Health.

“Their efforts make our jobs as economic developers so much easier as we go around the country and the world touting the Detroit Region,” said Krauss, who explained the DRP serves as the lead on some projects, but plays a supporting role on others, while helping companies access the entire region and coordinate with the state of Michigan.

That type of collaboration marks an attitudinal shift, according to Henry Ford Health CEO and DRP board member Bob Riney. “We should be excited about the fact that we moved from thinking that the only way forward is to compete with each other to collaborating and going after big things,” said Riney during the panel discussion.

Riney is at the center of the health system’s “biggest capital investment in its 109-year history” – the Future of Health. The $3-billion development led by Henry Ford Health, the Detroit Pistons, and Michigan State University, will include a state-of-the art medical research facility, academic hospital, and residential and commercial developments in the city of Detroit.

“We’re doing a great job (as a region) now of recognizing that we need all sorts of small seeds of growth and initiatives, but we also need some big, hairy audacious goals that create tipping points.”