Detroit’s announcement of chapter 9 bankruptcy was a difficult but essential step for the city’s resurgence. Now, more than ever, what Detroit needs is belief. Detroiters have to believe that the city will come back; and if new people are going to be attracted to become residents, they’ll have to believe that Detroit is safe, exciting, and profitable.
This type of belief only comes from raising and executing bold ideas. Here’s one: invite China to be a key partner in the revitalization of Detroit. What better statement could be made than to have a city like Detroit, for years mired by resentment of a China that is “stealing our jobs,” finally grow up to strategically engage the world’s second largest economy?
The Washington Post recently published an article outlining six crazy ideas for rebuilding Detroit, so I thought I’d add a twist to that. Below, I propose a six-pronged approach to building the “China Engagement Strategy to Help Rebuild Detroit.” It is a long-term vision, which needs to start with getting people face-to-face, building trust, and ultimately result in real investment and jobs coming into Detroit from this unlikely partner.
1. Pure Michigan in Chinese
Unsurprisingly, Chinese people largely associate the city with the blight, unemployment, and violence that they see on TV. The only way to bring in investment is to get actual people into the city. Investing in a “Pure Michigan in Chinese campaign” will allow Michigan and Detroit to cash in on the growing number of Chinese tourists using their expendable cash to tour America and hopefully change their perception through a direct exchange.
2. Build a strong Sister City Relationship between Detroit and Chongqing
People-to-people exchange needs to increase to build trust. A great platform for this would be bolstering the Sister City relationship between Detroit and Chongqing, which happens to be one of the world’s fastest growing cities
Governor Snyder seems to be ahead of the game on this one as he is planning a stop in Chongqing on his upcoming trade mission. May I suggest he kindly ask Chongqing to write a check to fund a vibrant sister cities program with Detroit?
3. Engage Chinese students in Michigan
Between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University alone there are currently over 5,700 Chinese students going to school in Michigan. While they are pumping in millions of dollars in revenue to the state every year through tuition and fees, that just tips the iceberg. Most of these students would be dying to get job experience during their time in Michigan, even if that required living in Detroit for the summer. These students have the power to change the narrative.
4. Get the EB5 program working in Detroit
Developers around the country have been using the EB5 immigration investment program since 1992 to fund job-creating businesses. Though there are six approved regional centers in Michigan, all with jurisdiction in Detroit, so far, there has not been a successful EB5 case in Detroit, or even in the state of Michigan for that matter. In 2012, over 80% of the visas issued to foreigners thru this program came from China.
5. Detroit Real Estate purchases
Recently, the United States National Association of Realtors noted that Detroit cracked the top 5 most asked about real estate markets from Chinese buyers. Why not use the attention the city is getting now to promote the great properties that already exist? The bankruptcy could indicate to some that now would be the time to buy when prices are at rock bottom in anticipation of a climb.
6. Court China to buy Detroit ‘s assets and invest in companies
China’s government is in a position to make outward investment. They have the world’s largest stockpile of foreign currency reserves, now standing at over $3.44 trillion. China is in the midst of deciding whether or not maintaining such a high number of reserves is literally getting the most bang for its buck, and is making a pivot to make overseas purchases and investments.
What might Detroit have that would be interesting to the Chinese? Of course, as an industrial and manufacturing hub, Detroit has access to infrastructure and technology patents that have continued to grow the presence of Chinese automakers in Detroit. Huge parcels of land are also available at rock bottom prices that are ripe for business development.
If we really believe that Detroit can rise up from rock bottom, it is going to take a few bold ideas like these to make this city tick again. Consider me a believer!