Defining Detroit’s Next Decade: Key Takeaways from the Detroit Policy Conference


Detroit’s past decade wasn’t a “comeback,” said Detroit Policy Conference chair Dennis Archer, Jr. in his keynote address. “It’s an evolution.”

Moreso, it was a redefinition, because as Archer said throughout the day, “Detroit never went anywhere.” Businesses find themselves, especially in marketing and communications, yearning every once in a while for rebranding or messaging refresh; I consider that something Detroit had to meditate on. Detroit faced adversity in its highest forms through bankruptcy, scandal and was one of the cities hardest hit by the economic recession. But its spirit never waned and that inspires us all as business professionals, family members and ultimately, our identity as Detroiters.

Our team had the pleasure to listen and participate in some engaging dialogue at the ninth annual Detroit Policy Conference with an influential speaker line-up supported by Detroit-centric sponsors and attended by 800 peers from across the region and state. The Detroit Regional Chamber hosted a slew of keynotes, panels and “Power Perspectives” including automotive, nonprofit, arts and community, as well as real estate and economic development leaders from the metro area. They all shared a common theme in looking ahead to the 2020s with a renewed sense of energy and purpose.

Here are a few takeaways from listening and critically thinking about what I can do as a communications professional to help Detroit succeed and thrive in the next decade:

  • To be a change agent, you must adapt what’s already there. The City of Detroit’s 24-hour Economy Ambassador Adrian Tonon couldn’t have said it better. Looking at the current state of any given business or organization we serve, we must look at positive outcomes and adapt any communications strategy to “what works” instead of “what could be better”.
  • The term innovation is overused. It’s great to push innovation forward as a business or individual, but, as Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist explained in his keynote, it’s important to “seize opportunity,” “ turn barriers into springboards;” not to position one’s self as new or innovative. Find your one differentiator from the rest of the crowd – and seize it.
  • Workforce development and education are systemic issues across all disciplines. Various talks at the Detroit Policy Conference emphasized the need to continue promoting skilled trades training opportunities and educational programming to enhance employee recruitment and retention across all industries. It also bodes well for the regional economy. As we look at internal communications it is also our duty to encourage learning opportunities for our own employees.
  • Collaboration, partnerships and togetherness. I’m sure I can speak for other conference attendees, but each session was thoughtfully organized to empower us to collaborate and partner. As a representative of a growing mid-sized integrated marketing agency in downtown Detroit, I am surrounded by so many businesses and organizations that support the city and its growth. Hearing about developments in the works, such as the Michigan Central Station restoration in Corktown and how Ford is encouraging public use of its Detroit campus, to the neighborhoods seeking residents’ input and firepower to define meaningful space use; and the continuing conversation on regional transit for everyone. It starts with partnerships and a more-than-one commitment.

We left the conference challenged to enhance our city’s landscape, to be mindfully inclusive and collaborative, to question what changes standards are and what’s in reach, and how we can help carry forward, especially, this creative resurgence our Detroit is currently undergoing. I don’t mean that by any deliverable or agency objective... I mean it as in how we think, act and engage with each other in or out-of-the-box. The possibilities are endless.

In terms of the bigger picture, however, how can we all show the world that “Detroit Moves Ideas? It starts right now.