Let’s Put Detroit’s Census Count in Perspective

On the surface, it’s difficult to put Detroit’s significant population loss, as reflected by Census figures released Tuesday, in a positive light. The city is now at its lowest population in 100 years. Back then, Henry Ford’s new assembly line was about to revolutionize industry and draw people by the hundreds of thousands to Detroit in search of a good day’s pay.

But it put a sour taste in my mouth when I read this in The New York Times this morning: “The question now is the degree to which the most recent census figures will discourage those who have invested in Detroit and continue to try to make a go of it.”

I’m here to say unequivocally that our belief in a bright future for Detroit is stronger than ever.

As a native Detroiter who works here every day, I see positive signs nearly everywhere I look. And as I think you’d hear from all who’ve invested time and energy in the city, we’re here to stay.

The Chrysler Super Bowl ad with Eminem may have reinforced our reputation as a metal-bending blue-collar town, and for good reason: After undergoing bankruptcy two years ago, General Motors and Chrysler are back with acclaimed new models, renewed focuses on quality and technology and vastly improved balance sheets. Ford is coming off its most profitable year since the late ‘90s.

But we’re no longer all factory smoke. Detroit was recently cited as the nation’s fastest-growing markets for technology jobs, boosted by a new Microsoft technology center, a vibrant and growing TechTown business incubator, loads of new high-tech automotive engineering jobs and General Electric Co.’s largest concentration of IT professionals in the world.

New businesses are cropping up around downtown and Midtown, and after a shakeup, automakers are luring advertising talent from far and wide. Quicken Loans is relocating thousands of employees from the suburbs to downtown. Wayne State University, Henry Ford Health System and the Detroit Medical Center are offering incentives to workers who agree to move to the dynamic Midtown neighborhood. I could go on.

As one of the largest employers in the city, I recognize that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has an enormous stake in Detroit. It’s why I made the decision last year to begin moving 3,000 Blue Cross employees from the suburbs to the GM Renaissance Center starting this year. The initiative will bring our total downtown Detroit workforce to 6,000; plans are in the works to help orient those employees with nearby restaurants, coffee shops, clothiers, boutiques and other businesses.

It’s also why I decided last year to keep hundreds of information technology jobs in the city rather than outsource them overseas by partnering with Strategic Staffing Solutions, a Detroit-based firm.

Like most people, I was startled by Detroit’s low census count, which city leaders believe is inaccurate. But some perspective is needed.

The results don’t change anything about the positive work underway to revitalize and re-energize this storied city and region. Positive grassroots efforts were underway before this one-day data dump occurred. They’ll continue their steady expansion long after.

Daniel J. Loepp is president and chief executive officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Photo by andorpro.

22 Responses to Let’s Put Detroit’s Census Count in Perspective

  1. Matt Dibble says:

    Thanks for writing this… Detroit is going to kill it in the next 10 years.

    • Thanks, Matt.
      Our decision to relocate 3,000 employees from Southfield to Detroit’s Renaissance Center shows we’re in agreement. We are invested in the successful comeback of Detroit and several cities throughout Michigan.

  2. Lisa Diggs says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Numbers are numbers, and accurate or not, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that many people have left the city for the suburbs, and others have left the state to find work. None of that diminishes the spirit and resilience of this city. Truthfully I believe most of America is rooting for Detroit because whether they admit it or not, they see themselves and their nation reflected back whenever they take a glimpse at us.

    • The world is certainly watching Detroit for good reason: our challenges are shared challenges. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Mike C says:

    Agree. And disagree. I have spent decades here as a street reporter and in PR on housing projects, etc. As a street reporter, seeing the ever-increasing vacant/abandoned areas makes the latest census numbers more believable and less shocking.

    Too bad Mayor Bing didn’t just acknowledge the hard task of the census and thank the workers, then stated they would take time to evaluate the numbers, ‘which we think might be low,’ and say they’ll announce next steps when decided.

    A less confrontational tone might leave the door open for the census to ‘admit’ to some misses and add to their count (admittedly unlikely). It also would have avoided the Mayor stating an under-count number — coincidentally close to what’s needed to avoid fed revenue losses. That will make it hard to believe the expected numbers are real and not ‘manufactured’ by the city.

  4. D. Sanders says:

    As Mr. Loepp states so clearly in his blogpost: I guess you just have to be here to understand what’s really happening … the rest is just math.

  5. Pingback: Let’s Put Detroit’s Census Count in Perspective - Amazing blog post by BCBS of Michigan CEO Daniel J. Loepp | Official Quicken Loans Blog

  6. Pingback: Let’s Put Detroit’s Census Count in Perspective | Information & News From Detroit Unspun

  7. Richard Smith says:

    Census demographers are used to Mayors asking for a recount. They know that by law they have to do a head count and they know by science that a random sample would give a better estimate. Response rates for the decennial census are high–around 70%–so it’s known that some proportion of the 30% who did not respond may be out there. That being said, we don’t have to measure the progress of humanity in terms of population growth. This is a throwback to the days we were ravaged by disease and pestilence. Private capital invests in population growth because it’s easy to predict. But private investors in San Francisco are trying to think of ways to invest in anticipated energy efficiency from weatherization. The Global Fund invests in a country’s ability to prevent HIV/AIDS, Malaria and TB. Vancouver, BC has financed it’s green Eco-City development with mostly one municipal credit union. Today it is one of the densest and livable cities in North America built mostly with local dollars. I’m glad my health insurer is moving jobs into Detroit. I’m a new homeowner and could use some more neighbors.

  8. gwilson says:

    Awesome and well written article. As a Detroiter, I also believe in this great city. After reading your article, my enthusiasm has grown even more. Through your words and actions, please continue to believe in our city. Again, awesome article, somebody needs to forward this in its original format to all the media outlets.

  9. Nadine Rivers says:

    Bravo! I love my city. As a native Detroiter, and first Detroit “root” for my family I would like to commend you on your article.

  10. Richard says:

    While I agree that there are positive things going on in Detroit, the reality is that the negatives far outweigh the positives. Those who would invest in the city and surrounding areas have many options. While other Midwest states (Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana) are creating more business friendly environments, Michigan is lagging. There are many other cities, especially in the South and West, that have much better business climates, which continue to attract companies and jobs. Without the jobs, Detroit will continue in its current downward spiral. While I appreciate Mr. Loepp’s positive attitude, there have been many others who have made similar comments in the past about Detroit, but the situation with the city has not improved and continues to get worse.

  11. Renee Tisdell says:

    Mr. Loepp I am proud to work for a organization(BCN) where the CEO which is you understands what is going on. I applaused you and thank you for not only believing in Detroit but the people to. You go Mr. Loepp!

  12. Dan Secrest says:

    Capital is typically invested in locations with low costs. Over time, the costs rise as infrastructure is built to support growing populations and industry, and labor demands higher wages and benefits. Capital then moves to new lower cost areas.

    People and capital poured into Detroit for the first half of the 20th century. The trend has been in the other direction for the last 50 years, leaving government, charity, and civic-minded businesses to pick up the pieces. Kudos to Dan Loepp and BCBSM for helping to stabilize the city and turn the corner to a brighter future…

  13. Michigan Psychologist says:

    Mr. Loepp,

    How can you justify a 56% pay raise while you are imposing a 7.5% pay cut on the psychologists who provide care to your subscribers? Also, I am a subscriber and my premium has jumped up significantly. It seems that you and your cronies are pocketing all the savings for yourselves. Shameful!

    • Andrew Hetzel says:

      Hi Elizabeth,

      I hear that you are frustrated, but how reimbursement rates are negotiated or calculated are a separate matter that have more to do with the demands of the entire health care system and what our customers are willing to pay for coverage of medical expenses. Dan Loepp’s compensation was below compensation for CEOs of other Blue Cross plans, regional service companies and national managed care companies, which are typically used as benchmarks. In the previous year, Mr. Loepp voluntarily gave back 5% of his 2009 base salary and 55% of his annual incentive.

      I’m glad you shared your thoughts here with us. Those of us who work at BCBSM, including Mr. Loepp, are very committed to improving access and quality of health care throughout the state – we believe in working very hard to create a system that is efficient and uses its resources wisely.

      Andy Hetzel
      Vice President of Corporate Communications, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan

  14. Pingback: The Long Road to Renaissance and the Evolution of Our Commitment to Michigan’s Core Cities « Blues Perspectives | BCBSM | Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan

  15. Michigan Psychologist says:

    Mr. Wetzel,

    If you believe that your customers are more willing to pay for million + salaries for your CEO than they are for their own health care providers, I think you have misread the will of your customers. It’s very sad that you can justify such huge salaries for a non-profit CEO while raising premiums and reducing reimbursements.


  16. Pingback: Detroit: A City for Believers « Blues Perspectives | BCBSM | Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan

  17. Pingback: Detroit: A City for Believers | Information & News From Detroit Unspun

  18. Kristen says:

    I thank Mr. Loepp for focusing on positive growth for our city. Many of the media outlets tend to skew the views of the wonderful things that are going on in Detroit. You are definitely creating a good example to other companies to step up and take an active approach to the revitalization of the city.

    I commend you for your efforts. I believe that Detroit is growing in a positive direction and it is actions that propel a city.

    • Nadine "Scoop" Rivers says:

      Thanks Kristen, and a hearty KUDOS to our fine CEO, Dan Loepp.
      We must begin to walk the positive walk on our city. it is a shining star, and we refelect it’s beauty!

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