Detroit: A City for Believers

Downtown DetroitI believe in the greatness of cities. They are the heart of commerce, attracting business, nurturing investment, creating jobs. And they are the soul of our culture, where intellect and the arts originate. In Michigan and across the country, cities are at the very core of our existence. That is why energy spent building and strengthening our cities is energy well spent.

As I reflect upon being elected Executive Committee Chairman of the Downtown Detroit Partnership (DDP) , so many possibilities and mission-critical tasks come to mind. There is so much to do to continue the positive momentum, so much we must do as we work to restore the luster to our city.

Belief keeps us here, but belief backed by action is what really moves us forward. I learned that from Tony Earley of DTE Energy, my predecessor, who has been a constant positive presence in Detroit and with the DDP for many years. Growing up on Detroit’s east side, in the triangle created by Kelly Road, Hayes and Houston-Whittier streets, I believed in this place. And I believe in Michigan. That belief remains intact, even as times have changed. In Detroit, Grand Rapids and Lansing, young residents and future residents want and deserve a place they can call home – a place they can live and thrive in, a place they can identify with and stand up for. A place they can believe in.

The DDP will make that happen in Detroit. I promise that, in the full comfort of knowing that positive energy and substantive results are already moving Detroit in that direction. It isn’t just talk. More than ever, there is action. People are taking notice. There is a buzz in the air today and excitement about what Detroit can become.

Perspective and Confidence

As president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, I can emphatically state that our company has a real stake in the success of Michigan’s core cities. When national media resorted to the tired old bit of taking a swipe at Detroit when census results came out this winter, I wrote a blog post to provide some perspective about what is really happening hereThere are ongoing struggles and concerns here, and a real uphill climb to get where the city can be, but there is also real momentum and a confident resolve.

Of the many responses to that blog post, one sticks with me:

“As a Detroiter, I 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.”

Those words meant a lot to me. Because I do believe in our city, I believe in its people and I believe with great confidence that together we can accomplish many things. The comment demonstrates that belief is infectious and it leads to action.

Regional Prosperity Relies on Strong Urban Centers

The Blues are taking actions to make Detroit stronger, by moving 3,000 employees to a unified downtown Detroit campus. It is a move that will bring our total number of Detroit-based employees to 6,000. It will contribute more than $3 million annually to the city tax rolls, create hundreds of new jobs and breathe life into countless restaurants, clothiers, boutiques and other businesses downtown. It is a move that brings $180 million in BCBSM annual payroll into the city.

This is all part of an ongoing corporate commitment that will ultimately bring 97% of our BCBSM and Accident Fund Holdings workforce into the epicenter of Michigan’s 3 largest cities – Detroit, Lansing and Grand Rapids. Our actions reflect our belief in a bright future for Michigan and Detroit, and our deep conviction that building up Michigan’s cities will help the entire state prosper.

My vision for Detroit fuels my commitment to the DDP. I see Detroit’s return to prosperity and the transformation of our city into a place that serves as a magnet to businesses from across the country and around the world, a place that beckons talented professionals looking for the right place to launch and sustain their careers. They will come to Detroit because they will see the city as we see it – as a great place to work and live.

A Shared Vision

Companies like Quicken Loans, General Motors, Compuware, DTE and Strategic Staffing Solutions (S3) have long been leaders when it comes to investing in Detroit. It is no coincidence those companies are strongly represented with the DDP along with other great companies and institutions like the Penske Corporation, Detroit Medical Center, Henry Ford Health System, Wayne State University and Olympia Development.

All that we do together through the DDP is helping to build the critical mass necessary to make Detroit a destination. And with everything we do, we continue to build and strengthen partnerships between companies committed to Detroit and Michigan. The Blues and many of the other organizations mentioned above are not just aligned on ideology. We are joined by strong bonds as customers and providers of service to each other. That same critical mass of partnership is occurring in Lansing and Grand Rapids.

In Detroit, all of us in the DDP feel energized by the belief and critical mass that we see building exponentially. And we all believe there are many more great things we can do together downtown that will greatly benefit the entire city, as well as the region.

Efforts by all of these organizations, along with the Blues, have created a steady drumbeat of optimism and excitement for the future of Detroit. This summer, a group of five DDP member companies including BCBSM joined to create the “Live Downtown” program, which offers incentives to those who either reside in Detroit or wish to make Detroit their home.

I can tell you that the response has been amazingly strong, beyond what we imagined. People want to play a positive part inDetroit’s comeback story.

The DDP exists for this very purpose. It has been my honor and privilege to interact with the tremendous leaders who drive the DDP and who share a vision of a vital and vibrant Detroit. For six years as a director and executive committee member, I have witnessed firsthand how the DDP works to support, strengthen and improve the city. I have seen what an organization can do through collaboration, unity and strength under the guidance of visionary leaders like DDP Board Chair Cindy Pasky of S3 and President and CEO Dave Blaszkiewicz.

In my new role as Executive Committee Chairman, we will continue to work together toward creating a strong Detroit that not only draws new investors to our city, but gives our children a reason to stay and build their careers right here at home.

We believe, and we are committed to substantive actions that will propel Detroit to a new era of prosperity. In the months and years ahead, we will make Detroit a city anyone can be proud of, and believe in.

Daniel J. Loepp is president and chief executive officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, and chair of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association national board, representing 39 Blue plans providing coverage to nearly 100 million Americans. 

Photo Credit: Urban Adventures

Live Downtown Residency Incentives Reflect Tangible Momentum For Detroit

As a native Detroiter, I’ve heard plenty of talk over the years about rebirth and revitalization. Much of it, sadly, amounted to very little concrete action. That’s why I’m so proud that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is part of a new initiative to strengthen some of the city’s premier neighborhoods by bringing in more residents.

Announced today, Live Detroit follows the ongoing move of 3,000 Blues employees from the suburbs to downtown Detroit. It’s also the latest entry in a growing list of ways the Blues are actively supporting Michigan’s core cities.

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Building a Stronger Michigan Starts at the Core

Editor’s note: This piece was originally published in the Mackinac Policy Conference edition of the Michigan Chronicle.

Building a stronger body starts with developing the core muscles at the center of the body. The same holds true for building stronger metropolitan regions — developing the core urban center allows for stronger, more sustainable regional economies.

At Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, we believe that one of the keys to Michigan’s economic recovery is doing what we can to strengthen our cities.  By making our cities places of prosperity, we make the regions around them more competitive and hospitable to future growth.

Our company’s relocation of nearly 3,000 workers from the Detroit suburbs into the Renaissance Center is one of the ways we are seeking to strengthen not just the City of Detroit, but the region as well. With nearly 6,000 Blue Cross workers in the downtown business district by 2012, we hope to create the critical mass that attracts other companies to Metro Detroit from outside the region and the state.

Other companies — notably Compuware and Quicken Loans — were early leaders in moving workforces into downtown Detroit.  As more companies follow, we hope other businesses take notice that Detroit is, in fact, open for business.

The urbanization of Blue Cross’s workforce has been accelerating recently. In fact, by 2013, 97 percent of our statewide workforce will be located within the downtown cores of Michigan’s largest cities — Detroit, Lansing and Grand Rapids. This has many strategic benefits to the Blue Cross enterprise. It will help us run our business better and realize significant cost savings at a time when both the competitive climate is more complex than ever and the cost of health care remains a leading concern for all our stakeholders. Our efforts also have major positive impacts for the cities in which we are investing.

Earlier this spring, Accident Fund Holdings, Inc., a BCBSM subsidiary, moved 620 employees into a gleaming new headquarters along the Grand River in downtown Lansing. This move came as a result of renovating a historic, but dilapidated power station in the heart of the city. It was a massive undertaking fueled by partnership across the public and private sectors. It gave Accident Fund room to grow by a projected 500 employees over the next decade.

As a result, Accident Fund’s downtown Lansing office building became vacant — so Blue Cross is moving in our workers from the suburbs. By the end of these moves, BCBSM will have more than 260 of our employees in downtown Lansing. Added to Accident Fund’s employee base, the BCBSM enterprise will eventually total more than 1,300 workers in Lansing’s central business district.

Our ability to make these investments in Detroit and Lansing began seven years ago when BCBSM renovated the old Steketee’s Department Store in downtown Grand Rapids and made it our West Michigan headquarters. Again, we moved our workers into the city center from suburban locations — and strengthened a key part of downtown Grand Rapids just as it was turning a corner. The area is now thriving.

Consolidation of our workforce in Michigan’s core cities will bring thousands of additional full-time jobs to those cities, while also adding millions of dollars in wages as well as property and income tax revenues. Our most recent action in Detroit, for example, will bring $180 million in BCBSM annual payroll into the city and add more than $3 million to the city tax rolls. In our renovation efforts alone, we are bringing $25 million in wages to Detroit and a significant portion of that will go to minority suppliers.

As the Detroit, Grand Rapids and Lansing regions market themselves as viable destinations for companies looking to establish a presence in Michigan, they can now point to their downtowns as more vibrant, more enticing places.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan runs its business with a Michigan conscience. We want our state to grow and succeed, and we are proud to join other Michigan-based companies that believe vibrant urban centers are key to the growth and prosperity we all seek.

Daniel J. Loepp is president and chief executive officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and chairman of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association national board, which represents 39 Blue plans covering nearly 100 million Americans.

Photos by ifmuth and stevendepolo.

The Long Road to Renaissance and the Evolution of Our Commitment to Michigan’s Core Cities

As I witness the completion of newly renovated Renaissance Center offices, the unfurling of banners and months of intensive planning become reality, I realize that I’ve never been more proud of what we’ve accomplished during my five years here as chief executive. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has officially opened its Renaissance Center offices for business, extending our downtown Detroit campus from Lafayette Boulevard to Detroit’s riverfront.

This week marks the beginning of a finale of a long and exciting journey for us here at BCBSM as we move the first of 3,000 employees from Southfield to Detroit. Coupled with the recent move of Accident Fund Holdings into its new Lansing headquarters, the journey feels especially symbolic, speaking both to Michigan’s past and its future.

The author cuts the ribbon on BCBSM's move to the Renaissance Center Monday. Loepp was joined at the event by (from left): Greg Sudderth, chairman of the BCBSM board of directors; Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano; Detroit Mayor Dave Bing; and George Jackson, president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp.

As a native Detroiter who spent many years in Lansing, I confess that the gratification over developments these past few months has a personal side as well. As I’ve written before, I strongly believe that Detroit is on the path to a new prosperity.

Our plan to centralize operations in downtown Detroit is just the latest focus of a years-long process to consolidate our business enterprise in core cities across Michigan. The process, which includes renovating the vacant Steketees Building in downtown Grand Rapids as office space in 2004, reached a crescendo in March, when Accident Fund, our workers compensation subsidiary, unveiled its impressive 330,000 square-foot headquarters in a renovated, abandoned power plant along the Grand River in downtown Lansing.

While different in nature, the Renaissance Center and the Ottawa Street Power Station both hold powerful symbolism for their respective cities.

True to its name, the Renaissance Center was hailed as a way to revitalize Detroit, a “city within a city,” when it opened in 1977. Yet the complex was sometimes criticized as resembling a fortress, walled off from the greater city at large, and its occupancy dwindled over the years as the city continued its painful economic decline. General Motors, which has owned the RenCen since 1996, was considering pulling its corporate headquarters from the building just two short years ago, a move that would have been devastating to the city of Detroit.

Flash ahead to today, when GM has redoubled its commitment to staying put. Our own consolidation of workers in Towers 500 and 600, once completed, will push the complex’s occupancy rate to around 93 percent. Today’s RenCen benefits from GM’s $500 million renovation in 2004 and the subsequent development of the picturesque Detroit RiverWalk, which opened up the once-neglected riverfront to public access and summer festivals.

Opening up public access to the riverfront is also part of the equation at the Accident Fund’s gleaming new headquarters in downtown Lansing, a city that has also seen its share of hard times.

I can remember when the Ottawa Street Power Station was decommissioned in the early ‘90s and how the Art Deco building cut an impressive, if dispiriting, silhouette on the city’s skyline. The massive building in those years seemed like a symbol of a disappearing industrial era. Its gradual abandonment dovetailed with the steady de-industrialization of Lansing itself, as the iconic Oldsmobile brand that defined the city dissolved.

Today, the power plant is giving rise to a new knowledge-economy era in Michigan’s capital city, having undergone an ambitious renovation. And yes, people can now walk along the riverfront behind it.

Certainly neither Blue Cross nor Accident Fund can take all the credit for these projects or all the subsequent development that we believe they will set in motion. But they speak to the power of conviction and making strategic investment in places. There are examples all around.

GM’s investment in 2004 helped physically re-orient the RenCen to the city, introduced a new retail component to the complex and helped set the stage for the RiverWalk.

Compuware gave the former J.L. Hudson’s department store site its first tenant and brought thousands of workers downtown, which eventually begat Campus Martius, recognized as one of the nation’s finest urban green spaces.

One wonders what’s in store as Quicken Loans prepares plans to move employees into the Chase Tower just across from the park.

You hear a lot of talk nowadays about economic stimulus, and there’s little doubt that Michigan could use a hefty dose of it right about now. We think that stimulus should focus on rebuilding our great cities, and we welcome our friends and business partners to join us.

It promises to be an exciting ride.

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

Photo by the Detroit Regional News Hub.

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.