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Penske: No Quick Fixes, But Detroit Turnaround Possible

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(credit: WWJ)

(credit: WWJ)

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MACKINAC ISLAND (WWJ) - Roger Penske had more of his usual no-nonsense prescriptions for turning around Detroit Wednesday at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference.

Appearing with a Pittsburgh, Pa. bank executive about how that city turned around after its signature industry, steel, all but disappeared, Penske said: “We must realize there are no quick fixes or easy answers for our city. It took Pittsburgh 30 years. We can’t wait that long in Detroit. We must focus on regionalization and a common set of objectives. We must all get on the same page.”

Penske said he can already see a “transformation to an innovation-based economy” in Detroit, but said far more needs to be done, including mass transit and a cleanup of blight.

“Detroit has 60,000 blighted buildings,” Penske said. “The first thing we have to do is knock them down. When we tried before, the city didn’t have the $10 fee (per building) to turn off the electric and gas. That has to change.”

Penske said city turnaround plans “must have metrics, must have goals, must have deliverables,” or it will be as unsuccessful as earlier efforts.

Penske also said he saw signs of hope. “The buildings we boarded up and painted for the 2006 Super Bowl” in downtown Detroit, he said, are now being remodeled into lofts, hotels and restaurants. General Electric is spending $100 million to create 1,800 IT jobs in western Wayne County. And Vanguard is investing $1 billion in the Detroit Medical Center’s seven hospitals and four specialty centers.

“Cooperation on a regional basis can get it done,” Penske said.

And Penske said a lot of that future was in IT fields, describing huge opportunity for IT workers at his company as well as plenty of others in Detroit.

“It’s wide open,” he said.

Joseph Guyaux, vice chairman and chief risk officer at PNC bank in Pittsburgh, gave a recap of that city’s turnaround, and praised Detroit for its progress so far.

“I’ve never had a bad visit to Detroit,” he said. “If I didn’t read the papers I wouldn’t know you’re having all these problems.”

He also said Detroit was lucky to have one thing Pittsburgh now lacks — a major regional airline hub.

“We have a beautiful airport but no planes,” he said.

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