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Detroit's Reputation Causes Region to Suffer


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In Our Opinion: Rescuing Detroit

PUBLISHED: January 4, 2005

By Macomb Daily Editorial Board

The issue: Few suburban residents really care much about Detroit's plight.

Our view: The suburbs may be a paradise, but their link to Detroit is undeniable.

In southeast Michigan, the city of Detroit is everybody's problem.

Consider a population decline of more than 50 percent in just decades, a virtually insolvent and undeniably unproductive school system, sky-high property taxes, a frightening crime rate and so much of the city abandoned or demolished that the total value of its property is less than that of the city of Troy. And Troy has one-tenth the population.

There is serious talk that Detroit inevitably will be forced into a sort of municipal receivership, in which a state- appointed manager takes over for the elected officials. Some say the city government is twice as big as needed for its population.

Few metropolitan residents outside Detroit seem to see any of those problems as theirs.

Some have the racist notion that what is happening to the city is the fault of blacks and black leadership, so Detroit is getting only what it deserves.

But common sense says the city's poor regional and national reputation harm both the area and the entire state.

When fans fought with players at The Palace of Auburn Hills last month, the images on network television only confirmed the national stereotype of "Detroit" as a racially divided and dangerous place.

In fact, Chrysler Group Chief Executive Officer Dieter Zetsche referred to that incident recently when explaining how the region's reputation makes recruiting business talent difficult.

The Palace is a stone's throw from the North American headquarters of DaimlerChrysler. Both, ironically, are in the suburban city of Auburn Hills, which is about as unlike Detroit as it's possible to be.

But not to those outside of Michigan.

Zetsche has said that what bothers him most about Michigan's "business climate" is not taxes, poor roads or any of the usual suspects -- it's Detroit's poor image.

"Quite frankly, it's not about the bottom line. It's about the atmosphere and the quality of life, as well," he said. "While many things are positive here, the reputation of Detroit is not a big draw, so it's in the very best interest of Michigan to change that."

He said job candidates have turned down offers from the auto company "seemingly because of the location."

And Zetsche added that part of the problem is that Michigan residents, especially those in Detroit's wealthier suburbs, don't believe the city matters.

Speaking to an outstate business reporter, the Chrysler boss described that attitude this way: "It's us (the suburbanites) against them. 'Let them go and let them die. We don't care. It's fine here.' I mean, that's like cutting the branch you're sitting on."

National data show that the Detroit region has not grown nearly as much proportionately in the last 30 years as the Chicago area, which grew about one-third bigger.

It's said that, when a national company transfers an employee to this area, the assumption is that it's a punishment.

Detroit's suburbs are a paradise in many ways, but their link to Detroit is undeniable.


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