Jul 30, 2019 - 4:45pm

Democratic Debate: With Spotlight on Detroit, a Look at the Motor City Business Community’s Local Impact


Associate Manager, Digital and Editorial Content

As the Democratic primary rolls into the Motor City, Americans will this week turn their attention to the debate stage in Detroit. Not unlike the first two debates, the third and fourth will likely focus a great deal on the economy – where it stands, where it’s heading, and what it all means for America’s businesses, workers, students, and families.

Detroit is an ideal host for such a discussion.

A decade removed from the financial crisis and five removed from bankruptcy, the city is roaring back. Manufacturers and retailers are migrating to the Motor City, and a thriving startup scene has but Detroit back squarely on the technology map. Last year, the city outpaced the national average in areas including real gross domestic product (GDP) and per capita income, and for the second consecutive year, foreign direct investment into Detroit eclipsed $2 billion.

Dan Gilbert, the founder and CEO of Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures who has played a leading role in the city’s revival, summed it up well in a recent interview: “It is not only technology companies that are thriving in the city. Local and international retailers, as well as manufacturers are choosing Detroit. Simply put, Detroit is located at the intersection of muscles and brains.”

Still, the Detroit region faces steep challenges in ensuring the revival is felt by all citizens throughout the greater metropolitan area – and that’s where local businesses large and small are stepping up. In many ways, entrepreneurs, employers, and executives throughout the region are stepping up to create opportunities for and enrich the lives of Detroit residents and Americans across the country.

General Motors Company: Revitalizing Detroit through sustainability

Founded more than a century ago and deeply connected to the history of Detroit, General Motors sold nearly 3 million vehicles last year and employs more than 180,000 people. Building upon its history as a great manufacturing city, Detroit is currently in the midst of an economic revival – and General Motors is doing its part to give back to the community. From sustainability programs to workforce training, GM takes a holistic approach to its social responsibility mission.

In 2014, GM launched a sustainability program at its headquarters, the GM Renaissance Center. The program helps maintain the building’s landfill-free status by diverting food preparation waste from several restaurants to benefit local urban farming initiatives. Since then, GM has worked with local composting startup Detroit Dirt to collect food scraps and fruit and vegetable pieces from the building. The material is mixed with herbivore manure to create nutrient-rich compost used to cultivate urban gardens throughout the city.

What started as a compost collection program with select restaurants within GM’s headquarters now includes participation from all floors and occupants at the complex. Through this expansion, GM is hoping to further reduce environmental impact and better contribute to Detroit’s revitalization.

“At General Motors, we are committed to utilizing all our resources and see waste as simply a resource out of place,” said Lauren Smith, strategic manager, GM Sustainable Materials Management. “Our strategy to keep waste resources in use encourages innovation, creates jobs and serves our communities and the environment.”

Ford Motor Company: A century of community building

Similarly stitched into the fabric of Detroit, Ford was founded more than a century ago in Dearborn, MI – and the impact the company has made on this community may very well last for centuries to come. Ford strives to give back to the region that hosted the growth of an international, multi-billion dollar company that today employs hundreds of thousands of people.

Ford has a long history of philanthropy in the Detroit area. In 1936, the company established the Ford Motor Company Foundation to enhance the community, and in the 40s and 50s, the foundation invested in public school systems, including local colleges and universities, and artistic organizations such as the Detroit Institute of the Arts.

Beyond grants and investments, the Ford Motor Company Foundation actively supported a number of community organizations and initiatives to further strengthen the Detroit area. In the late 60s and 70s, the group supported the “New Detroit” organization and the installation of a “productivity center,” both of which encouraged and enabled Detroit residents to find employment.

In the 80s and 90s, the Ford Motor Company Foundation centered their efforts on strengthening public education systems and restoring local neighborhoods. By backing projects like the Neighborhood and Family Initiative, and by partnering with the Community Foundation, the organization has helped make Detroit a safer, more productive place to live and work.

Today, the Ford Motor Company Foundation helps fund research projects at local institutions that provide data and solutions to some of Detroit’s most pressing challenges. Its research drives community revitalization projects such as the RiverWalk project, the New Economy Initiative, and the Grand Bargain, an initiative to which Ford pledged $125 million to combat Detroit’s bankruptcy challenges.

Alticor: Fighting childhood malnutrition

Alticor is the parent company for four large subsidiaries including Amway, Amway Global, Access Business Group, and Alticor Corporate enterprises. Generating over $9.2 billion, the Ada, MI, company employs more than 13,000 people around the world.

Alticor works on a global scale to support entrepreneurs and to fight childhood malnutrition by providing malnourished children with nutritional supplements through its Nutrilite™ Power of 5 Campaign, which is run through the Amway brand. Since its start in 2014, the program has helped malnourished children in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Vietnam, and around the globe.

The company partners with established humanitarian groups to provide thousands of children with Nutrilite™ Little Bits™ supplement – a micronutrient powder supplement enhanced with plant nutrients that provides 15 essential vitamins and nutrients to children ages six months to five years old. The Nutrilite™ Power of 5 Campaign has helped over 30,000 children in 15 different countries.

“We believe it is essential to be more than a corporation that simply makes or markets stuff. To remain viable, we know we must first improve the well-being of people around the world,” Amway co-founder Rich Davos said.

Dow: Fostering a culture of community building

Dow develops cutting-edge solutions that preserve our food, help create safer infrastructure and make the world a more functional, beautiful place. They strive to promote sustainability at all levels of the organization. In 2018, Dow hosted 22 business workshops at various company sites to educate employees about incorporating the environment into business and pinpointing future nature projects.

Dow is dedicated to carrying the spirit of innovation through every initiative taken on by the corporation. Passionate about giving back to the community, Dow developed the DowGives program. DowGives helps fund lasting sustainable programs within a number of Michigan communities. “As part of its global commitment to sustainability, Dow looks to invest in programs and organizations that will have a long-term impact and serve as a starting point for widespread community involvement and growth,” according to the company’s website. 

Beyond funding, Dow created the Community Well-Being program, which promotes employee volunteerism. This allows employees to get involved in making a difference for community stakeholders and address the region’s needs.

“At Dow, we are uniquely positioned to create global social impact by deploying our employees’ talents and our company resources where our capabilities and expertise in innovation, citizenship and sustainability intersect,” Rob Vallentine, former director of global citizenship at Dow and president of The Dow Chemical Company Foundation, said. “Making true and lasting impact on societal challenges has been infused in the DNA of our company, in the hearts of Dow people across the globe, and is the fabric of the communities we call home.”

DTE Energy Company: Increasing community safety and improving schools

Based in Detroit, DTE serves upwards of 2.2 million private and commercial consumers and plays a crucial role in providing power to the region.

Besides providing families and businesses with electricity, DTE is dedicated to revitalizing communities throughout Michigan, specifically in Detroit. The power company actively invests in Detroit neighborhoods to improve living conditions and ensure the neighborhoods they power are safe. For instance, DTE contributes to the Detroit Public Safety Foundation, which benefits the police department by paying for security cameras, street lights, and 24-hour vehicle patrols.

DTE also promotes initiatives to remove litter from the streets, streamline and increase efficiency of public transportation, and convert Detroit public schools to their energy grid. Through programs like these, DTE is able to improve power reliability across Detroit Public Schools by 90% and create more than 200 additional school days.

In June, DTE was named one of the top 50 community-minded companies in the U.S. by Points of Light, the world's largest organization dedicated to volunteer service.

"DTE is committed to serving with our energy and transforming the communities where we live and serve through our team's volunteerism efforts, neighborhood revitalization, and workforce development programs," said Nancy Moody, vice president of public affairs at DTE.

Jackson National Life Insurance: Empowering workforce giving through community initiatives

Lansing-based Jackson National employs more than 4,000 employees across the country. They work to educate and assist Americans on building healthy retirement plans.

In addition to educating and preparing Americans for retirement, Jackson encourages employees to volunteer in local communities through the “Jackson in Action” initiative, which they established in 2007. Jackson strives to reach all community stakeholders with Jackson in Action.

Between delivering nourishment to the elderly in conjunction with Meals on Wheels and raising over $650,000 to build the Jack Teen Zone for the Boys & Girls Club, the effects of Jackson’s philanthropy are inspiring within the Lansing community. The company also encourages individual philanthropy with a 2-to-1 match of employees’ private donations to select nonprofits.

“Strengthening families and increasing economic opportunities in the communities we call home,” is critical to the company. “At Jackson, we believe our products, culture and employees should all contribute to the greater good of society,” according to the company’s website. 

Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures: Spearheading a revival

Over the past decade, Dan Gilbert’s portfolio of 100 or so companies have invested nearly $6 billion into Detroit and employs around 17,000 people in and around the city, making it Detroit’s largest employer and taxpayer. In addition to Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures, Gilbert is behind Bedrock, a thriving real estate investment company, fiberoptic cable provider Rocket Fiber, and Detroit Venture Partners, a startup investment firm, among others.

Beyond investing in real estate, growing businesses and downtown revitalization efforts, Gilbert’s companies have supported programs like Neighbor to Neighbor, which helps Detroit residents at risk of tax foreclosure avoid it, and Rehabbed and Ready, which, in partnership with Home Depot, rehabilitates houses in undervalued surrounding neighborhoods to help boost Detroiters’ access to equity.

Support extends beyond the Motor City, too. The Quicken Loans Community Investment Fund donates about $16 million to $17 million annually in support of education and blight elimination in the four cities in which it operates: Detroit, Cleveland, Phoenix, and Charlotte, North Carolina.

About the Author

About the Author

Associate Manager, Digital and Editorial Content

Kelly Rosenblatt is an Associate Manager of Digital and Editorial Content at the U.S. Chamber.