Downtown Detroit employers offer cash incentives to attract workers

Five Detroit employers will pay their employees -- in cash -- to move downtown. Is it the right way to turn the Rust Belt city around?

Here's a novel idea: if you can't woo suburban residents back to the city with jobs alone, do it with cold, hard cash.

Detroit, a Rust Belt city I've often described as "beleaguered," on Monday saw five of its major employers -- Blue Cross Blue Shield, Compuware, DTE Energy, Quicken Loans and Strategic Staffing Solutions -- announce a $4 million program offering cash incentives for employees who choose to live downtown.

It's called "Live Downtown," and the goal is to encourage the 16,000 workers spread across those companies to re-think their commutes and instead buy, rent or renovate property in six designated neighborhoods: downtown, Lafayette Park, Corktown, Woodbridge, Midtown and Eastern Market.

Here's how it works: residents employed by the five companies can apply for a $20,000 forgivable loan toward the purchase of a property in the area, Existing residents are eligible for a $5,000 home improvement loan on a property worth at least $10,000.

As for renters, new ones can apply for a $2,500 incentive if they sign a one-year lease to rent downtown; they're also eligible for another $1,000 if they commit to a second year. Existing renters are eligible for a $1,000 incentive.

It's an interesting exercise in urban planning. What at first may look like a knee-jerk assault by the city on its suburbs is in fact a speedy way for a sprawling but rapidly declining (in population) city to consolidate and rebuild, through density, the foundations of what was lost.

Detroit is merely the largest example in a swath of cities stretching from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean that lost their manufacturing base. While some larger peers diversified their economies (Chicago, Philadelphia) and others doubled-down on 21st century manufacturing (Milwaukee) others have yet to complete a turnaround.

The effort complements the "Live Midtown" initiative, a similar program for healthcare employers in that neighborhood.

It also dovetails with another to revert some of Detroit's most abandoned areas back to farmland -- again, with the idea that pushing the city back into itself may be more helpful than trying to support more city than its residents need.

"The intention is really to create density, to recreate the 24-hour community," said David Blaszkiewicz, president and CEO of the Downtown Detroit Partnership, in a statement. "This is our starting point."

Photo: Michael Kumm/Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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