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.

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

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.

Read more of this post

New Energy-Efficient Streetlamps Part of Ongoing Improvements to Blues’ Downtown Detroit Campus

To improve the quality of public life downtown, the Blues recently announced a partnership with the City of Detroit, the Downtown Development Authority and the Downtown Detroit Partnership to install 1,077 high-efficiency streetlights downtown. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is installing 41 lampposts along its properties that border the BLUpath, our name for an urban trail that connects the Tower headquarters with the Jefferson Building and new offices in Towers 500 and 600 of the GM Renaissance Center.

Grassy areas that border East Lafayette Boulevard outside the Tower are the latest area to undergo a facelift in preparation for the new energy-efficient streetlamps.

Construction workers operating mini track loaders and excavators dug trenches and installed cables and cement bases for LED lamps along the walkway. Barricades prevented pedestrians from entering the site.

By replacing high-intensity discharge streetlamps, which typically use 200 watts and last three years, the city expects to gain annual savings of almost $57,000 with the installation of LED lamps that last 10 years and burn only 73 watts.

The new streetlamp project is one of several building-related initiatives the Blues plan to complete this year.

Besides moving the last of 3,000 Blues employees into GM Renaissance Center Towers 500 and 600, Blue Cross is building a new entrance and collaborative space for employees at its Jefferson Building facility, scheduled to open mid-summer.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dome Magazine Profiles Blues President and CEO Daniel J. Loepp

Daniel J. Loepp’s Detroit upbringing, work ethic, ambition and “ability to read political tea leaves” take center stage in a new Dome Magazine profile of the president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

The profile “Comfortable with Politics,” by business writer Carol Cain, touches on Loepp’s previous  role as chief of staff for former Michigan House Speaker Curtis Hertel. It discusses how Loepp joined the Blues in 2000, was asked to lead the company in 2006 and has emerged as a strong civic leader:

Many are surprised to learn that the not-for-profit insurance provider has 8,000 employees and an economic impact of $22 billion in the state, and ranks only behind General Motors and Ford Motor Co. in revenue. Besides providing insurance to almost five million people in the state, BCBSM has made its presence felt in downtown Grand Rapids, Lansing and the Motor City as it invested millions in facilities and moved thousands of employees from suburban locations to those downtowns.

Read the rest of the article here.

Embracing Diversity Makes Michigan Stronger

Blues President and CEO Daniel J. Loepp.

Diversity is good business.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan this week hosted its annual Supplier Diversity Achievement Awards program, a combination awards ceremony and networking event that gives the company a chance to say “thank you” to the vendors that help it succeed.

The company gave out awards to seven women- and minority-owned businesses whose services have been invaluable to the success of the Blues and its subsidiaries — Blue Care Network, Accident Fund Holdings, Inc., and LifeSecure. Another four awards went to Blues’ staff members and departments for excellence in achieving corporate supplier diversity achievement goals.

It’s the seventh consecutive year of celebrating partnerships with companies that reflect the makeup of the communities we serve and share the Blues’ focus on operational excellence.

In 2011, BCBSM spent $175 million with 182 women- and minority-owned suppliers. These business help the company strengthen its information technology and compliance capabilities, lower administrative costs, reduce risk and focus on its mission of providing access to quality health care to anyone who needs it.

Forging ties with diverse, homegrown businesses is one example of how Blue Cross is committed to strengthening Michigan and its core cities. Another is our ongoing move to the Renaissance Center, which will conclude in June when our downtown Detroit workforce will stand at 6,300 people.

In moving 3,000 employees to the RenCen, and including the Accident Fund’s move into a former power plant in Lansing, Blue Cross spent more than $22.5 million with nine different women- or minority-owned businesses last year. Several of them, including Wireless Resources Inc. of Madison Heights and Alliance Technology Solutions LLC of Lake Orion, received awards Wednesday.

It’s all a reflection of the Blues’ commitment to Michigan, which has now stood for 73 years.

“I think it’s a real partnership that we have,” Daniel J. Loepp, the Blues’ president and CEO, told attendees at the awards program. “It is part of our fiber, part of our culture at Blue Cross to be part of the community and I am proud of that.”

Check out a slideshow from the awards program below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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:

CEO Dan Loepp’s “Rx Plan for A Healthier Michigan” Featured in DBusiness

Blue Cross’ efforts to strengthen Michigan’s core cities, build healthier communities and continue its mission of providing access to quality health care in a changing economic and regulatory landscape are spotlighted in a new 16-page supplement in the current issue of DBusiness magazine.

This special section, titled “Daniel Loepp’s Rx Plan For A Healthier Michigan,” appears in the November/December 2011 issue of DBusiness.

The supplement articulates the president and CEO’s vision for the company to lead Michigan to a future of good health, economic growth and prosperity. Its six stories include features on the Blues’ various partnerships with providers (including the patient-centered medical home program (PCMH), the nation’s largest program of its kind), how the company is preparing for federal health care reform, and the company’s efforts to strengthen the core cities of Detroit, Grand Rapids and Lansing.

DBusiness is the most widely circulated monthly business publication in southeast Michigan, focusing on business leadership, innovation, industry trends and market forces shaping the regional economic climate.