A Conversation with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan

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  • Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan

    Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan

  • From left: Mayor Mike Duggan, David Kirkpatrick

    From left: Mayor Mike Duggan, David Kirkpatrick

Speaker

Mike Duggan
Mayor, City of Detroit

Interviewer

David Kirkpatrick
Founder and CEO, Techonomy


Kirkpatrick: I’m just going to go right into it—you came from the medical industry. You know, you had a long history, a really big job running hospitals and hospital systems. And you were telling me the other day that one of the things you did when you were running the hospitals here was you put in electronic medical records and it sort of transformed the landscape and put your hospital ahead of so many other competing systems. What’s the equivalent running the city, of the EMR, electronic medical records?

Duggan: Yeah, well, in that case I came into a hospital system when it was near bankruptcy and had we continued to make—

Kirkpatrick: That’s a familiar word.

Duggan: Yeah, and had we continued to make incremental changes we would have trailed our competitors by reducing margins and that wasn’t really what I was looking to do and I saw in that case, with the electronic medical record, the opportunity to leap ahead of them and it worked out extremely well for us. But of course it’s not that easy to execute. Around here the problem is maybe a little of the opposite. At the Detroit Medical Center they did the basics well, in the city of Detroit we don’t do the basics particularly well. So we need to get the street lights on, we need to get the ambulances to show up, we need to get the buses to run on time and I think we made quite a bit of progress in those things in the last year and a half. So now the question is, how do you create a city where the businesses want to come, where entrepreneurs want to come and with this Motor City Match program I think we’re going to try to head dramatically in that direction.

Kirkpatrick: Well, I want to hear more about that but let’s talk a little bit about what has happened in the last year and a half. I mean, for example, the statistic that really blows my mind, it certainly does look great is, 500 street lights put in the year before you came in and you’ve now put in 52,000 thousand street lights since you’ve been Mayor. That’s the kind of thing that really does—citizens can feel it. Tell me some other things that you’ve accomplished in this short time that you’re proud of already.

Duggan: Yeah, well the street lights were an example of how dysfunctional the city was. The city had the money for the street lights but the lighting authority was busy fighting, “Do we use the old sodium lights or the new LED lights? Do the wires go above ground or below ground? Do you start on the east side or the west side?” When I came in I replaced the lighting authority and said, “We’re going to build modern LED lights. We’re going to light to the national standard, which is every 300 feet and we’re just going to go,” and we’ve been hanging a thousand lights a week and it has definitely contributed to a feeling of hope, but there’s a lot of other things. The bus system typically ran 30 to 45 minutes behind schedule. This week we’re going to be at full pull-out of the bus service. We’re going to run on schedule for the first time in 20 years.

Kirkpatrick: Wow.

Duggan: Now we didn’t do that on our own.

Duggan: If you had seen the buses we had a year and a half ago, we had the oldest fleet in America and we had taken buses that were in crashes and our mechanics are amazing, they kind of patched them back together and we shoved them back on the road because that’s all we had. With the help of Joe Biden and the White House we were able to get 80 buses, which is almost a third of the fleet, in the last year, and the Vice President’s coming on Thursday to send the last new bus onto the road. So people around the country have been enormously supportive, but I’m a numbers guy. I’m a metrics guy.

Kirkpatrick: Beth says that, that you want numbers and data every week. You demand the data.

Duggan: Well, and of course Beth Niblock who is just remarkable, one of the things that when I ran for Mayor I did 250 house parties. I sat in anybody’s living room who invited me and the one thing they all said is, “You call City Hall with a problem, you don’t know who to call. Somebody did an illegal dump site in the vacant lot next to my house. Do I call the DP Deputy? Do I call the general service department? Do I call city council? Do I call the Mayor’s office?” I said, “We need a 311 system. We’ve got 25 departments that don’t function.” I said to Beth, “Help me set up this 311 system,” and she’s like, “You are so 1980s.” She says, “We’re not going to try and fix a telephone system in 25 departments.” So we took a version of SeeClickFix, which we call Improve Detroit. We rolled it out in May. You can go onto your smartphone, put in your location, report the broken street light, the illegal dumpsite, the pothole. Each of the departments has a service agreement. We send you a message immediately that we’ve got your complaint. We send you follow up requests if we need more information. We send you a message when it’s fixed and more importantly, every week I get a message that says, that tells me, “Here’s how long it took to repair the streetlights. Here’s how long it took to stop the running water.”

Kirkpatrick: You mean the average response times.

Duggan: Exactly, because, you know, those street lights you’ve got to have repaired in 48 hours. Beth will give me a report every week. It took them 52 hours last week. And so we can track these things and we’ve only put it out there since May and now 70% of all the complaints coming into the city of Detroit are coming in off of smartphones, off this technology.

Kirkpatrick: Off an app, yeah.

Duggan: And I can’t tell you what that means to the average citizen who thinks their little problem on their block was too small for city government to ever pay attention to and now somebody’s emailing them back telling them, “We’ll be out to fix it,” and telling them when it’s fixed. So you know, to have the right kind of technology leader actually makes the city government look better.

Kirkpatrick: Well, congratulations to you for bringing in somebody as good as Beth and for a lot of other hires that you’ve made and that she’s made. And we’re going to hear from, her social media person is on our program today. But what was the initiative you mentioned at the beginning that you referred to?

Duggan: Motor City Match.

Kirkpatrick: Talk about what that is and where it’s going.

Duggan: So here is the thing that I want to do, you know, it’s interesting, I’m Mayor at the right time. There was this whole national trend for young people to want to be connected closely and to move into urban areas, but when I came out of school in the 1980s and came to Detroit there wasn’t anybody here. Everybody was moving to the suburbs and buying minivans in my generation. And I was hoping to be part of a Detroit comeback and I was kind of by myself. Now, I see these young people pouring into the urban areas. My job is, what can I do to speed it up? I’m not smart enough to figure out which company is going to be the next future. I want to create an environment where all entrepreneurs feel welcome. And so we started this program we call Motor City Match in which we’ve got a combination of foundations and some federal money. We give out $500,000 dollars every single quarter and $50,000 grants to 10 startups. And so we’re about to announce the first awards in October. We got 300 applicants, but the team is so good, they said, “Look, we don’t want to have 10 winners and 290 losers.” And so we’ve set up something in tiers. You might have had a good idea but you don’t really know how to write a business plan. We’re putting those people in a group with people who help them develop a business plan, maybe find the kind of partner they need. You’ve got a second tier that’s got a good business plan, they don’t really have a location. “I want to have a place where I sell the handbags that I’m making, do I go to Livernois? Do I go to Rosedale? Do I go to Midtown?” We take those folks and we’re teaming them up with real estate experts who will say, “Here’s the kind of location. Here’s the kind of rent you can expect to pay, et cetera.” Then we’ve got a third tier—

Kirkpatrick: This is great.

Duggan: They’ve got their business plan, they’ve got their location but they don’t really know how to build it out and how much is the construction going to cost. Because when you’re an entrepreneur you don’t necessarily know all these things. We’re teaming them up with architects and construction people to give them the most cost-effective build out scheme. And then you’ve got your fourth tier that have got their business plan, have their location, have their build out, they’re the ones that are going to be awarded the ten $50,000 dollar grants we’ll be announcing in mid-October. Here’s the beauty, December 1st we’re starting the whole thing again. And by putting people in the pipeline where we’re helping with business plans or locations or designs that they’re building we’re creating a pipeline for the next quarter and the quarter after and the quarter after. And we’ve committed to do this every quarter for the next five years. So if you can imagine we’re going to have nearly 100 people somewhere in that pipeline in October, start it all over again in December and I’m hoping that over a year or two people around the country say, “You know, if you start up in Detroit you can get housing really cheap, you can get into a commercial space really cheap and there’s this whole network of entrepreneurs who are all gravitating there because of the support. And so—

Kirkpatrick: Wow, that’s fantastic.

Duggan: What’s my equivalent to an EMR? With the electronical medical record I created an environment where the most progressive doctors all came to the Detroit Medical Center because they wanted to practice in the most advanced setting. I’m going to try to create the environment where our most aggressive entrepreneurs in this country are saying, “I want to go to Detroit. That’s the place where they foster this kind of spirit.”

Kirkpatrick: So you really do see entrepreneurship and small business formation as one of, if not the engine that can really take the city to the next level?

Duggan: You know, Detroit has fallen so far down, we need lots of strategies. And so I can take you over to the east side where we’ve created a couple of square miles of tax-free zones where manufacturing and distribution centers are coming in more in the traditional economy. We need those jobs too. And so it’s not that we have one strategy and that’s all we’re doing, but there’s nothing like the energy of entrepreneurs to rebuild the city. It’s what built Detroit in the first place 100 years ago.

Kirkpatrick: When you do this competition thing and you’re helping these entrepreneurs with all these—did you have to create a new city agency to do that? Who’s doing that? Does that create institutional challenge or is that something you’ve—how does it work?

Duggan: Everything is an institutional challenge around here. So if you had seen it, when I hired Beth I complained about the fact if you sent me an email with an attachment, we were running on an operating system that was 10 years old, chances were better than 50/50 I couldn’t open the attachment on my computer. So when you start talking about building infrastructure—but we have a group called Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, which is kind of a nonprofit spin off of the city of Detroit government and they are able to move very quickly.

Kirkpatrick: So that’s like a public/private partnership company.

Duggan: Exactly. And so they can move quickly outside the city bureaucracy. I went to folks like the Knight Foundation—

Kirkpatrick: I figured you must need some kind of mechanism to make that sort of thing work.

Duggan: Oh God, if I had to put all of these grants through a city bidding process we would never get there.

Kirkpatrick: Right. As a New Yorker I can just imagine it wouldn’t work in New York either.

Duggan: Right. So we found a way to get around it and so we’re going to award these things, and then we’re going to do it again and we’re going to do it again. And I’ve said to them, “You will know you’ve succeeded when Wayne State and U of D Mercy and even the high schools in Detroit start to have classes in Motor City Match. So we start to train our entrepreneurs when they’re in school and potentially I could see high schools in this city having an elective their senior year called “Motor City Match,” saying, “Here’s how you prepare a business plan,” to start to think about the fact you don’t have to grow up to work for somebody else. You can grow up and be your own boss and own your own company, and that’s something that young people in Detroit haven’t necessarily seen as a viable path for them and it’s something I’m trying to create.

Kirkpatrick: Well, that’s a national need. So I hope you inspire people nationally if that thing succeeds. When we talked on the phone you were talking about this gas station meeting you had just had and I was very intrigued by the quid pro quo that you were asking the gas station owners for. You know, like you were going to do something for them but you want them to do something for you. I mean, talk a little bit about that because you seem to have a good approach to these sort of, like, “Let’s all work together.” I mean, and tell me if that is—

Duggan: I wasn’t ready to announce it publicly yet.

Kirkpatrick: Oh okay. Well you don’t have to announce it if you don’t want.

Duggan: But conceptually so—well, we did have the meeting, since you’ve told everybody, last week.

Kirkpatrick: We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want.

Duggan: But the thing in this city that we’re going to have to address, and it’s going to be my focus for the next year, is we’ve got to get people to stop shooting each other.

Kirkpatrick: Yeah, I guess so.

Duggan: And by and large, the violence in this town tends to be people who have ongoing beefs with each other who settle them with guns and a lot of cities in America, Boston and New York and many others, have taken the gun violence out. And we know what strategies they used. But when you’re filling up with gas at night that is a point of vulnerability for shootings, for carjackings and the like. And so I brought the gas station owners in and I said, “I want five or six of you to do a demonstration and here’s what I want. I want a standard of lighting and exterior cameras that at 2:00 in the morning we can see everybody lit up like it’s day. I want you to put these cameras and these lights in to this standard and we’ll pay to hook them to a central crime center at police headquarters—”

Kirkpatrick: Technology.

Duggan: Technology. “And in exchange for that we will give you half off of all the inspection fees that we charge you, which can come out to a couple of thousand dollars a year.” There was a very positive reaction. But here’s the vision we have, ultimately I’d like every business in Detroit that’s open after 10:00 p.m. to do this, but if we have a carjacking at a gas station I’d like the police to be able to pull up the video immediately, rewind it two minutes, get a picture of the car and the carjackers, put it out to our officers in their patrol cars who have laptops and have them be able to see the cars and get an instant response so that we start to use technology to fight this. And if we establish this, as we’re talking about saying how these are going to be Detroit police safety partners, which we prominently display the signage at these gas stations. Now we make the gas stations zones of safety not zones of danger and then we’re going to build the party stores, and Coney Islands, and drive thrus. But if you can create enough places in the city where your prime points of vulnerability become points of safety now you start to make the city safer. And the response from the gas station owners was very positive. We’re going to go forward with it.

Kirkpatrick: Now I know you still have a really gigantic way to go, but that’s an innovative approach that frankly I haven’t heard of other cities trying. Are there pieces of what Detroit can do that really can leapfrog? When you finish do you see Detroit being ahead of other cities?

Duggan: You know, I don’t, I’m not looking at it that way, although I guess maybe on the Motor City Match, on the entrepreneur side, but for the most part we’re not looking to compete with Chicago or LA. We’re looking to compete with Detroit as it existed a month ago, because we’ve lost population in this city for nearly 50 straight years. And so family and neighbors are making a decision, “Do I stick it out here or do I move to a suburban community?” And every month that’s better than the month before people are staying. And we’ve seen a significant reduction in the exodus from the neighborhoods. And so my goal is, I want people every month to feel like it’s better. And if you talk to people in the neighborhoods, of course when their street lights go on that’s a pretty visible sign of progress. And I’ve had people call me saying, “I took the for sale sign down off my lawn because you put up a street light, something I’d never thought I’d see on this block.” And so that’s kind of the way we’re approaching things right now.

Kirkpatrick: Well, this is our fourth Techonomy Detroit. In our four years coming here we have really seen a lot of change. I mean, obviously the streets are torn up, can’t even—Google Maps does not know how to work here—

—and I think all of us got lost on our way to dinner last night, but progress is really, you can feel it in the air. But I’ve got to ask you, because this is, you know, the central question that many of us continue to worry about with Detroit, and again, I’m not a Detroiter, let me ask you my question as a New Yorker. I still see this extraordinary energy still mostly concentrated in this part of the city and downtown, and I think of Detroit as this gigantic place with so many African-Americans and people who have historically been really excluded. How do you think about the progress that Detroit is making in bringing those two sets of energies together?

Duggan: Well, you know, I’ve been a Detroiter my whole life and you have to have the perspective of being here, but unlike New York and Chicago and many other cities that built up vertically and were very dense, Detroit by the 1920s was exploding with the expansion of the car industry and an auto worker could afford a single family house. And so the 140 acres of this city absolutely filled out from the 1920s to the 1940s—

Kirkpatrick: You mean square miles.

Duggan: 140 square miles, sorry. 140 square miles of this city filled up with single family homes to the edge. Well the 1950s came and whereas up until then cars were manufactured in six story buildings where they bring them from floor to floor the new generation of auto manufacturing was all on one level with a huge assembly line. They moved out to the suburbs which was farmland then where they could build these sprawling factories. Then they started building big shopping malls in the suburbs and the city of Detroit was never able to compete because we were a city of single family homes. And so you need to think about that as you approach these things. And so what I have done is this, we are pounding away in the neighborhoods, suing the owners who abandon houses. We’ve got beautiful vacant houses in this city that people walked away from because they were under water in their mortgages in 2007, 2008. Houses that would sell for $300,000 or $400,000 dollars in other cities, people just walked away from here. We’re getting title of those houses by suing the owners who walked away. We’re selling them, people are moving in and fixing them up. And so people are realizing you can have a beautiful home in a very nice neighborhood at a rate you couldn’t have imagined in any other city in the country. And so we see the neighborhoods coming back and stabilizing, we see the entrepreneurship right now concentrated in downtown and midtown, but we are very much focused with this Motor City Match in the Livernois corridor between Seven and Eight mile, and the Grand River corridor between Southfield and Evergreen. The same neighborhoods where we’re moving families into these houses we now want to repopulate the commercial strips.

Kirkpatrick: So you’re actually encouraging the entrepreneurs to move to those neighborhoods?

Duggan: Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s a huge part of the program. And so people in the neighborhoods like what’s happening in downtown and midtown. They also want to know, “Are the property values going to go up in my neighborhood?” and right now in many of the neighborhoods in Detroit the property values are going up because people are staying.

Kirkpatrick: Interesting. Let’s go for some real quick Q&A. Can we get the lights up right away? Who’s got a question or comment for the Mayor? I can’t believe there aren’t some Detroiters who have thoughts or questions. Okay, right here. Identify yourself.

Audience1: I want to applaud you on all the cool things that you’re doing.

Kirkpatrick: Identify yourself.

Audience1: I’m Nima [Adelkhani] from Idea Market. There’s a start up in California that has created a sensor that maps out potholes and you can attach it to a car and it builds a database.

Duggan: Really?

Audience1: You should look into that.

Duggan: All right.

Audience1: Because I think, I’ve talked to a lot of people in the community and they think that part of problem with the buses and everything are the potholes.

Duggan: No question about it.

Audience1: So check that out.

Duggan: All right, sensors that detect potholes.

Kirkpatrick: Thank you so much. That’s the kind of quick thing I like. Okay, over here. Can you get the mic right over there please?

Dier: Hi, Graves De Armond and I’m from Southwest Detroit. I just wanted to commend you on the App. I actually reported some dumping the other day, it was gone this morning.

Duggan: I’m glad to hear it.

Kirkpatrick: Wow, whoa. Now there you have some kind of testimony.

Duggan: When somebody says I reported a problem I hold my breath until I hear what the answer is. So I’m glad to hear it.

Kirkpatrick: We’ve got a guy with his hands up whose dumping stuff did not get picked up. Okay, over here and then we’ll go back there after. Okay, we’ll get these two and then we’re going to have to wrap. So we’ll go him and then her. Okay, yeah.

Cane: Mayor, my name’s Neil Kane. I’m a transplanted Chicagoan recently moved to East Lansing as the first Director of Undergraduate Entrepreneurship at Michigan State University.

Duggan: All right, well welcome to Detroit.

Cane: Thank you and the task that I got from our provost was to create a culture of entrepreneurship and I’m very inspired by what I’ve heard, because I’ve listened to at least two Mayors over the last 20 years in Chicago talk about similar issues and I just wanted to pledge my support. I don’t know how to do it exactly, but any way that we can plug our students into the initiatives that you described or the Motor City Match please have somebody from your office contact us.

Duggan: We’d love to have you.

Kirkpatrick: Right on. That’s a good offer.

Duggan: And I know I was working with President Simon trying to get a place for your kids over the summer to be placed in Detroit.

Cane: Right. That’s now on my plate.

Kirkpatrick: Pass the mic right back there please. Thank you. Tell us who you are.

Agadema: Hi, my name is Alice Ogadinma. I’m a junior here at Wayne State, double majoring in business marketing and PR and I just want to thank you for handling the issue with the bus system because I am a commuter student and I was definitely talking to the economic department, the dean of students, the president here, and the chief of police here about the issues of safety going from downtown Detroit to Wayne State. So just thank you for providing more buses and for reaching out to Joe Biden as well.

Kirkpatrick: You’re getting the right kind of questions here.

Duggan: Good. And if you’re looking for an internship next summer talk to Beth before the end of the day. You’re the kind of talent we’re looking for.

Kirkpatrick: Okay, something really quick? Okay, back there. We’ll get that—I know we’re over, Simone, but this is too good to rush through. And we’re going to go to a break after this.

Audience2: Hi, I’m Anna [Isachenko], I work at SPLT, part of the Techstars Accelerator, and I was wondering, I guess, what are you doing to engage the community that’s been in Detroit to kind of integrate them or, I guess, to connect them to the people that are moving in and vice versa?

Duggan: The community?

Audience2: That has lived in Detroit.

Duggan: Well, the community—we have got more block clubs formed that at any point in our history and we’ve got a new thing we’re about to kick off we call Neighborhood Lot Lease. The city owns 80,000 vacant lots and we’re going to kick off something that says anybody can lease these lots for $25 dollars a year for three years on one condition, that your block club approves the use. So whether you want to do gardening or farming or put in a swing set or create off street parking. And so we’re trying to turn the control of the land from city government back to the communities and it’s going to be our next big initiative.

Kirkpatrick: Mayor, it’s really an honor to have you here. Thank you for the support you’ve given to Techonomy and thank you for doing what you’re doing for Detroit. It’s really cool.

 

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