Relocating employees downtown reflects huge momentum swing for Detroit, RenCen (with slideshow)

The completion this week of our BLUnite project, which unifies 6,400 employees in our expanded downtown Detroit campus, was about many things: It puts an exclamation point on Blue Cross’ commitment to this city for the long term, and we realize a host of new real estate cost savings, operational efficiencies and other improvements. And after all the hard work by employees and the crews who made it happen, it’s a great reason to celebrate.

But as Tom Walsh points out in a Wednesday column in the Detroit Free Press, there is an element to this story that’s all too easily overlooked.

As he put it, our move of 3,400 employees constitutes “a remarkable change of fortune for the Renaissance Center and its chief occupant, General Motors, both engulfed in a sea of question marks just two short years ago.”

Thousands of Blues employees gathered for a lunchtime celebration Wednesday, enjoying the sounds of the Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences choir, with many forming dance trains to the booming music from a DJ. Mayor Dave Bing and I spoke about how our project, along with similar moves from other companies, underlined the positive momentum under way in the city and helped form a “strong mass” of businesses in the city’s core.

This new, positive momentum is a stunning reversal from where we were just a few short years ago.

In 2009, when the auto industry was staggered by a weak economy, the very survival of our city, region and the American auto industry was in question. The auto industry affects all Michiganders either directly or indirectly, so everyone in Michigan – southeast Michigan in particular – would be affected by the outcome.

By mid-2010, as Tom Walsh writes in his column, GM decided against relocating its corporate headquarters out of the Renaissance Center. But it still had an issue with empty real estate in Towers 500 and 600.

It’s often said that timing is everything. I looked out my office window toward the Detroit River back then, saw those towers, and a question came to my mind: “What if…?”

Today marks nearly two years after we announced our plan to bring employees from the suburbs to the Renaissance Center. Today, the RenCen’s  occupancy rate is 93 percent, highest in its history. The RenCen, which has long served as an icon, representing Detroit to the nation, is literally full of life. And the auto industry is back on track, too.

The same can be said for downtown Detroit. Blue Cross is proud to join a growing list of companies that are putting stakes in the ground and betting on the city’s future.

We’re proud to be home in the D. And I’m proud to say, Detroit is open for business.

Take a look at photos from our BLUnite celebration below.

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

How has social media changed the conversation about Detroit?

When people talked about Michigan, the conversation use to be about the lifestyle advantages the state possesses.  From thousands of miles of shoreline to enjoy in the summer to an abundance of places to downhill ski within a few hours of the Michigan town you call home; outdoor enthusiasts have long enjoyed our state.

For too long, conversations about the advantages of our state stopped after touting these qualities. Recently, Michigan’s big cities have been making a case for inclusion in those conversations. Traverse City was recently named as one of the top ten places in America to retire. If you are looking for a great place to raise a family, Forbes Magazine says Grand Rapids needs to be on your short list. National media says that Ann Arbor is a great place to find a job and Kalamazoo is a great place to find a beer.

And Detroit is becoming a media darling too. Time magazine bought a house a few years ago and spent one year living in and reporting on the city. The New York Times has discovered plenty of reasons to stop flying over Detroit and start spending time here.  So has National Geographic. Popular blogs like Curbed and Huffington Post have set up shop in the city.

Local media has bought in too, as demonstrated by the focused coverage by WXYZ in their Detroit 2020 series, WJBK in their Redefining Detroit series and WDIV in their Heart of Detroit series.  Many would argue that the two daily newspapers in the city, the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News are finally presenting a more complete picture of Detroit. And radio shows like The Craig Fahle Show are shining light on the many good things happening in the Motor City.

Detroit has long been a polarizing conversation on every social media outlet as well.  On June 13, 2012, we are co-hosting a discussion with Social Media Club Detroit at our offices at 600 Lafayette Blvd. in Detroit about the role social media has played in the changing conversation about the city.  We will be exploring questions, like is social media creating a new understanding locally of the city of Detroit or has it just exposed what we already knew about the city?  And what role has social media played in the way people around the country perceive Detroit?    Our town-hall discussion will be hosted by WXYZ anchor Stephen Clark. Confirmed panelists include;

  • Sarah F. Cox, Editor at Curbed Detroit
  • Chris Kaufman, Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer at UpTo
  • Maura Campbell, Outreach Strategist at Detroit Unspun

Tickets through Social Media Club Detroit are available for $10 here:  http://smcdetroittownhall.eventbrite.com/

Blues CEO Daniel J. Loepp on Detroit: ‘Best I’ve seen in probably 30 years’

Blues President and CEO Daniel J. Loepp is attending the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference this week on Mackinac Island, where he stopped in for an interview with MiVote.org and journalist Christy McDonald.

In the video interview, Loepp discusses revitalization and business investment in the city of Detroit, the upcoming completion of BCBSM’s move of 3,000 suburban employees into the city, the street lighting initiative undertaken with the city and the Downtown Detroit Partnership, and the impact of national health care reform.

Take a look here.

Downtown Detroit Businesses Partner in Project Lighthouse to Help Ensure Safety to All Who Visit the City

Banners indicate Project Lighthouse locations that are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

As more of our employees begin working in downtown Detroit, the changes to the city’s skyline are readily apparent. The company logo at the top of Tower 500 and the new façade of the building is a symbol that approximately 6,000 BCBSM employees are now working in downtown Detroit. Our Jefferson Avenue building has been given a 21st-century facelift to help accommodate the influx of Blues employees.

For those city enthusiasts who want to work and live in downtown Detroit, the Live Downtown incentives provide the financial backing needed to make that move. And they will be greeted by improved public lighting in the Central Business District of Detroit.

Still, safety is a concern for many visitors to downtown, which is why we are proud to participate in an innovative new program called Project Lighthouse. The premise for the program is simple: If you’re lost, having a safety concern or vehicle trouble, look for one of the 30 downtown businesses that display the Project Lighthouse banner. Those businesses have volunteered to be safe havens for those in need. And, if you can’t find a banner, call 313-471-6490.

“This creates a neighborhood feel for downtown Detroit and shows what is possible for Detroit. It creates a different environment and feel. This is the kind of community we are building,” said Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee in Dig Downtown Detroit.

Tip: add Project Lighthouse to your mobile phone contacts: 313-471-6490

Project Lighthouse is not a replacement for 9-1-1 for emergency situations, but gives local businesses a way to help ensure that downtown Detroit is a safe place to work, live and play.

Photo by Dig Downtown Detroit

Jefferson Building Improvements Strengthen BCBSM’s Link With History (With Photo Slideshow)

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The March 1954 edition of the Blues’ employee newsletter devoted three pages to the company’s new Jefferson Building offices in Detroit, where some 700 employees were about to move into spacious, amenity-filled modern offices.

“As the time draws near for moving into our new building practically everyone is seeking answers to his or her own special problems,” the article began. “Highlights is going to tell you all about it — everything from elevators to electric lights and from banks to barber shops. You’ll like working in our new home.”

Nearly 58 years later, it gives me great honor to rededicate a building that serves as a living link to the Blues’ rich history of serving the people of the state of Michigan.

We recently took the wraps off our newly improved Jefferson Building. Construction crews have renovated the first floor and entrance of the building at Jefferson and Beaubien Street, adding a glass, storefront façade, modern high-tech collaboration spaces for employees and treadmill Walkstations where employees can exercise while they work.

The changes are intended to open the building up to the street and remake the “old lady,” as Highlights called it then, into a central tech hub of collaboration for our newly expanded downtown Detroit campus, which now stretches from the Renaissance Center Towers 500 and 600 to Lafayette Boulevard four blocks north.

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BCBSM Goes “Green:” A Closer Look at Downtown Detroit’s Largest Solar Energy System

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is powering a portion of its Detroit campus with renewable energy that preserves clean air and protects natural resources.

BCBSM is one of the first organizations in Michigan to participate in DTE’s SolarCurrents, one of the largest solar energy programs in the country.

“Use of solar energy supports the Blues Go Green initiative,” said Ray Warner, director, Facilities and Support Services. “Participation in the SolarCurrents program puts us in the forefront of using green energy technology to help power an urban campus setting.”

Decreasing our Carbon Footprint

As a company, BCBSM recognizes the health of its members is impacted by a clean environment. Through its “Blues Go Green” initiative, emerging environmental issues, opportunities to reduce the environmental impact of company activities, products and services are identified wherever possible. The SolarCurrents program is one example.

SolarCurrents compliments two other unique technologies used at the downtown Detroit campus — the green living roof on the Congress Street parking deck and the rain water collection systems used for irrigation located behind BCBSM’s headquarters on Lafayette.

Pursuing Sustainability in Downtown Detroit, Partnering with DTE Energy

DTE has installed the 200-kilowatt solar energy system on the roof of BCBSM’s four-story parking structure located at the corner of Congress and Beaubien.

“The solar energy system is capable of providing enough power for about 40 homes a year, plus 20 percent of the base load energy requirements for the Detroit Tower,” said Chris Meyer, manager, Facilities and Support Services.

One of the major benefits is the contribution made toward preserving a green environment.

“Since last August, the solar energy system has produced more than 91,000 kilowatts of power,” Meyer said. “That’s enough power to avoid producing 65 metric tons of carbon dioxide and protect 24 acres of trees.”

The best view of the 31-000 square-foot solar energy system is from the Detroit People Mover. Each month thousands of people can see the system capturing renewable energy from the sun during their ride.

“It’s the largest solar energy system in downtown Detroit,” Meyer said. “It’s good use of urban space, and adds an attractive look to our campus.”

Investing in Michigan’s Future

What’s more, BCBSM is providing DTE a platform for solar energy research to develop clean energies for commercial use throughout Southeastern Michigan.

A SolarCurrents display located inside BCBSM also allows employees to view real-time energy output and learn how solar technology helps the environment. More information on the project is available on DTE Energy’s website.

BluesWeek: Employees Begin Relocating to RenCen Tower 600 in Detroit

The Blues have begun moving employees into renovated offices in Tower 600 of the GM Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit. The first 281 employees moved into newly renovated offices in Tower 600 earlier this week, and another 306 will arrive Monday from Southfield. Blue Cross’ downtown Detroit campus will have more than 6,000 employees when the final moves wrap up this summer.

The submission period for the “Make the Play for Healthy Habits” kid video contest is now closed, with dozens of entries submitted from across the state. Readers can vote for their favorite finalists for two weeks starting April 11 on A Healthier Michigan. The winner, to be announced in early May, gets a school assembly with Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and an opportunity to be a featured guest blogger.

Grace Derocha, a blogger on A Healthier Michigan and Blue Cross registered dietitian, takes her portion-control suitcase to the airwaves Friday to talk serving sizes and how to “live green” with fruits and vegetables. She touts health benefits including reduced blood pressure, weight loss and maintenance and more on Fox 2 News Friday during the 10 a.m. hour.

The April installment of The Healthier Michigan Radio Show examines the simple yet effective health benefits of walking. Host Ann Thomas interviews guests Jodi Davis, BCBSM’s walking advocate and blogger, and Blues health coach and blogger Angela Jenkins. The episode airs at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 3 on both WJR-AM and WJIM-AM in Lansing. It’s also available for listening online or as a podcast.

In Case You Missed It…

BCBSM is sponsoring an encore season of “Ernie” the play May 3 through July 28 at City Theater in Detroit. Written by media personality Mitch Albom, the play celebrates the life of legendary former Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell, who also served as a health and fitness advocate for the Blues.

BluesWeek is a weekly snapshot of initiatives, events and other newsworthy tidbits under way at BCBSM.

Photo by tukanuk

Live Downtown Residency Incentives are Helping to Rebuild Detroit

Efforts by engaged businesses and their activated employees to bring people to live where they work and play are breathing new life into downtownDetroit.

I spoke Tuesday at the annual luncheon meeting of the Downtown Detroit Partnership. As I look around at the progress we’ve made under the leadership of Cindy Pasky, I’ve never seen more buzz or tangible action on the streets.

Drawing Residents

The response to Live Downtown, a cash incentive program designed to bolster residency in the central business district and key adjoining neighborhoods, has been tremendous. In the first six months after we announced it in July 2011, we’ve approved more than 100 applications for new home purchases and rentals, existing rentals and home renovations. Another 250 employee applicants, including 50 pre-approved applicants, are in the pipeline.

More than three quarters of the applications to the program are coming from suburban residents who want to move into the city. At Blue Cross alone, we’ve had more than 12,000 hits to our internal Live Downtown website and nearly 200 employees who have applied for the program.

Live Downtown is a $4 million-plus initiative by the Blues, Compuware, Quicken Loans, DTE Energy and Strategic Staffing Solutions. Eligible participants can get a forgivable loan of up to $20,000 to purchase a home, $3,500 for a new rental and up to $5,000 for exterior renovations for projects worth at least $10,000.

Core Investments

Commitments from the five companies that sponsor Live Downtown have led to 7,000 additional jobs and roughly $120 million in new investment in Detroit since 2010.

This week, in fact, sees more than 280 BCBSM employees report for work for the first time at renovated offices in the Renaissance Center Tower 600. Another 305 will join them next week after relocating from Southfield, and by this summer, when our final moves have been completed, Blue Cross will have more than 6,300 employees on its unified downtown Detroit campus.

The moves add to the great progress we’re making at the DDP, a sampling of which are listed below (or read our 2012 Annual Report):

  • Developing a new Downtown Retail Strategy to work with downtown property owners with the goal of attracting 15 to 20 new retailers into Woodward Avenue storefronts by 2014
  • Supporting the Detroit Public Lighting Department as it retrofitted more than 1,000 streetlights to use energy-efficient LED lights in key areas of downtown
  • Launching D:hive, a collaborative effort to attract and retain new talent to Detroit through services including referrals, tours, real estate market information and start-up classes for aspiring entrepreneurs

While this is a great start, we’re nowhere near being done. The city’s current financial crisis shows that tough decisions — and far-sighted thinking and investment — are needed from business, residents and all who love Detroit.

But as I told Carol Cain for a recent Detroit Free Press column, I remain confident about the investments Blue Cross and others are making. If we work together in a sustained effort, momentum is on our side.

Daniel J. Loepp is president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and the executive committee chairman of the Downtown Detroit Partnership.

Photo by utopiandreaming

How the New Entrepreneurial Spirit in Detroit Benefits All of Michigan

Even if you’re not in the habit of perusing business news, you owe it to yourself to read Inc. magazine’s comprehensive new series, “Innovation Hot Spots: Detroit.” The package of 15 stories (yes, you read that number right) about the city’s new startup culture crystallizes why so many people like me are bullish on the Motor City.

One of the headlines in this series puts it well: We are witnessing “A Whole New Groove for the Motor City” take shape. All of us who care about Detroit specifically and Michigan more broadly should feel excited about our region’s newfound sense of optimism and possibility.

Proud to Partner

I’ve written before about how we’re aligning our actions at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan with efforts to strengthen core cities like Detroit — by relocating roughly 3,000 suburban employees to downtown, by being part of the Live Downtown residency initiative, and by partnering with local vendors to create jobs, embrace diversity and achieve key business objectives.

While consolidating our corporate campus serves definite business interests, one of the secondary goals was to help support a critical mass of businesses in the central business district with people able to support them with their money. With help from partners like General Motors, Compuware, DTE Energy, Ilitch Holdings, Quicken Loans and its founder-turned venture capitalist, Dan Gilbert, we’re starting to see the fruits of those efforts.

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Public Television Report Featuring Blue Cross Examines Downtown Detroit Revitalization

A screen capture from the Nightly Business Report segment.

Public television program Nightly Business Report recently aired a story about how efforts to breathe life into downtown Detroit by attracting residents are reaping rewards for businesses and the local economy. The report featured interviews with Daniel J. Loepp, BCBSM’s president and CEO and the executive committee chair of the Downtown Detroit Partnership. He and others, including Blues employee Craig Steiner, spoke about Live Downtown, a program sponsored by Blue Cross, DTE Energy, Strategic Staffing Solutions, Quicken Loans and Compuware Corp. that offers financial incentives for employees to live where they work.

Watch the video on Downtown Detroit Revitalized by Businesses Relocating below: