NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR
MODERATOR: Good day, and welcome to this New York Foreign Press Center briefing. My name is Daphne Stavropoulos, and I’m today’s moderator. This is the latest briefing in the ongoing Foreign Press Centers City Spotlight Series, providing our members with access to state and local officials throughout the United States. Each briefing sheds a spotlight on a locality on the front lines of some of the biggest international challenges and opportunities.
Today it’s a pleasure to introduce Michael Duggan, Mayor of the City of Detroit, who is briefing on Detroit’s economic revitalization, transformation, and resilience. You’ll hear why his city is a natural host for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation transportation and trade ministerial meetings this month.
This briefing is on the record, and the views expressed by non-federal government guests are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government. We ask that if you publish a story from this briefing you’ll share it with us. And following the mayor’s remarks, I’ll open the floor for questions.
With that, it’s a pleasure to introduce Mayor Duggan. Thank you for joining us.
MR DUGGAN: All right. Well, thank you very much for that introduction, Daphne. And we’re looking forward next week to welcoming the 21 economies from the Asian-Pacific region to the city of Detroit. And we’re going to get a chance to, I believe, show off the city. So it was almost exactly 10 years ago that the city of Detroit filed for bankruptcy, and that got a lot of international attention, and the city was down then. We had an unemployment rate of 20 percent, there were 40,000 abandoned buildings in this city, half the streetlights were out, and investment had been leaving Detroit for a long time.
And 10 years later you’re going to get a chance to visit a very different city. Our unemployment rate is now down below 6 percent this month, the lowest it’s been in almost 25 years. We’ve seen businesses come back in a big way. The new Jeep plant Stellantis built on the east side is employing 5,000 Detroiters putting out the Jeep Grand Cherokees. General Motors built its first electric plant, called Factory ZERO, here in Detroit. They retrofitted the old Poletown plant and they are now building electric Hummers, electric pickups, and the electric self-driving cruisers in Detroit. Ford Motor Company took the long-abandoned train station and now it is the center of their research for the electric and automated vehicle of the future, with 5,000 employees.
We’ve got probably 3,000 hotel rooms and residences under construction, and we’re really pleased about the fact that USA Today has named the Detroit riverwalk for the third year in a row the finest riverwalk in America. The Detroit that I grew up in – and I’ve lived here my whole life – was an industrial riverfront. We didn’t know, when you lived in Detroit, we had a riverfront. And now it’s enjoyed by thousands of residents from Detroit and the surrounding communities every weekend.
And so we’re very much part of the global economy, and I am a strong supporter of trade as mayor. And I’m just really pleased to be able to host the leaders of these economies in the next two weeks.
MODERATOR: Thank you for making those opening remarks, sir. We will open the floor for questions. If you have a question, please go ahead and raise your virtual hand, or you can type your question in the chat. When I call on you, if you can – can you state your full name and your media outlet.
And I will ask a question that was submitted in advance by a journalist from Xinhua. The journalist’s name is Shilong Yang. He was asking for an update on the city’s economic and trade relations with your Chinese counterparts. There are a few questions in this. Do you have any specific programs for Chinese entrepreneurs to invest in Detroit? He’d also like to know how the city is celebrating AAPI month this month. And we’ll go from there.
MR DUGGAN: Okay, well, let me start with the second question. So we’re celebrating AAPI month by welcoming the world to the city of Detroit. I don’t know how we could do it better than that. Not just the conference itself, but I’m going to be having the leaders of the various economies to our homes, where my wife, Dr. Sonia, and I will be hosting them in our house at a reception. And the city of Detroit embraces AAPI month with – in a manner that many cities in America do, with city council resolutions celebrating the rich heritage, with social media posts and continual reminders to the community.
Our relationship with the Chinese is something that needs to be restarted. It was something I placed a high priority on when I got elected, and I went to China with Governor Snyder on a trade mission back about six or seven years ago. And we in particular were partnering with the city of Shenzhen. The leadership – both the mayor and the party leader – came here to Michigan, and we talked about building to a sister city relationship.
And then I went to China, visited Beijing, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, spent time with Terry Gou and the Foxconn leadership, and spent a lot of time – I bet I met with 15 or 20 leaders of manufacturing in China. The next year the leadership of Shenzhen came back here and we signed a friendship agreement, which as you may know is one step short of a formal sister city relationship, and we had a number of cultural exchanges with Shenzhen. After the 2016 election, the relations between the two countries became a little bit more unpredictable, and then COVID happened.
And so I am very anxious to get back to rebuilding it, and of course I know President Biden is doing everything he can to move the relationship where the Chinese and Americans can compete economically without having to be political rivals. And I’m very anxious for us to get back to that and go back to building a strong economic partnership with the Chinese economies.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. I want to – a point of clarification, and my apologies. For all of our guests who are joining – it’s [pronounced] Mayor Duggan.
The next question will go to Leah Griffith with Asahi Shimbun.
QUESTION: Hi, Mayor Duggan. Thanks so much for being here and thank you to the Foreign Press Center. I wanted to ask if you had any particulars on which U.S. and Chinese officials will be attending these meetings. Thank you.
MR DUGGAN: I know there is a list somewhere, but you should probably get that from the State Department or I’ll make a mistake and misstate who is coming.
MODERATOR: And Leah, I’m happy to put you in touch with my colleagues who are working on the meetings from the State Department following this briefing.
So, as a reminder, if you have questions, please raise your virtual hand or put your questions in the chat and I’d be happy to call on you. Sir, I’m going to take moderator’s prerogative and if you don’t mind, I understand there’s recent information and news about the innovation center, and I wonder if you can share some background about that and what it means for your city as well as the state.
MR DUGGAN: Well, I am a proud graduate of the University of Michigan, and there are a lot of residents of the 21 economies who are graduates. When I was in China, we started – in each city we started breakfast with University of Michigan graduates who are Chinese citizens who came and told us all that they were accomplishing.
And so what we are doing is this: The University of Michigan, of course, has an international reputation. It started in Detroit in the 1800s and moved to Ann Arbor, about an hour west of Detroit, about 150 years ago.
And the university has decided that they are going to build a high-end graduate school in the city of Detroit for engineering, mobility, climate change, finance, and the like, because Detroit has come back so fast on the tech side, on the mobility side, that the top students coming out of school want to come here, want to have internships here, want to have job opportunities here. And so before the end of the year, the University of Michigan is going to break ground on that graduate school, and we do expect to see the top undergrads from around the country and from around the world come to the University of Michigan in Detroit for graduate school in these programs.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about your sister city relationship.
MR DUGGAN: Well, I’ve got a sister city relationship with Toyota city, which is actually Detroit’s oldest sister city relationship. And I was in Toyota, Japan, to celebrate that with – it was a remarkable event, the – I’ve never seen such hospitality. The Toyota leadership actually held a three-hour-long fireworks in honor of what was then the 50-year anniversary of our sister city relationship. I got to drive a hydrogen-powered vehicle – a Toyota, of course – on the streets of Japan. And so that has been the oldest one, and I am certainly hopeful that the next one – and as you know, the sister city, you start by developing relationships and cultural exchanges, you move to friendship city status, and then ultimately you make a commitment to sister city status, and I am hopeful Shenzhen will be the next city that actually elevates to the point of sister city status.
MODERATOR: That’s fantastic. Thank you so much. Again, this is an opportunity to ask Mayor Duggan questions about his city, the economic revitalization, the transformation, resilience initiative that he has introduced ahead of the APEC meetings next week. Please go ahead and raise your virtual hand if you have a question.
Well, seeing that we don’t have any other questions, I’ll turn it back over to you, sir, to make closing remarks.
MR DUGGAN: Well, just that we are very excited. The city of Detroit has hosted the biggest national events, from Super Bowls for football to the Final Fours for college basketball. But this is as large an international event as Detroit has hosted in quite some time. We’re very excited about it, and I hope the journalists on this call – that many of you get a chance to come visit our city.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir, so much for that – for the time today. Good luck next week starting to host. We appreciate it. And we do have one more question if you have time.
MR DUGGAN: Okay.
MODERATOR: It – the question – unfortunately I can’t – it’s coming from Sandra Muller, who is a French journalist. And she is asking: “How does – how do you see the real estate market – how much has progressed in five years?”
MR DUGGAN: So the property values in Detroit have between doubled and tripled from neighborhoods from one end of the city to the other, and so it’s very exciting. We’ve had 10,000 houses that were vacant 10 years ago that people have bought and renovated, and it is so exciting when you see a house that was empty that’s got a family moved back in. And this may not mean a lot to you, but in the City of Detroit, our largest department store – the Hudson’s Department Store was demolished 40 years ago. There is now the second-tallest building in Michigan going up on that site that’ll be office, apartment, and hotels.
We are seeing the long-abandoned AMC headquarters has been demolished for a new auto supplier part. The old Hudson Motors building, been empty since the 1980s, was demolished, and the Lear Corporation has just built a new seating plant on it. And we’re really glad to have a French company, Faurecia, that has got a supplier part on the west side of Detroit.
So it’s very exciting. We are watching blighted properties being transformed into highly productive properties every single month. And I think if you get a chance to come, you’ll be surprised at what you’ll see in Detroit.
MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. There is an additional question. It’s coming in from Olukorede Yishau from The Nation. He is asking: “Are there Nigerians involved in your economic advancement?”
MR DUGGAN: We have a number of African immigrants involved in – isn’t necessarily the focus of this conversation, but the answer is yes. A lot of small businesses have been started by immigrants from Nigeria and other African countries. And each year I actually enjoy the picnic from the African immigrants in which they have a huge soccer tournament – probably most of you call it football – at a giant park in Detroit. And the colors, the excitement, the day together is one of my favorite days of the years. And we just had – it’s – they aren’t from Nigeria; I shouldn’t say this offhand – but we have a – a new restaurant Baobab Fare that was just named by Forbes as one of the leading restaurants in America that was started with the help of a local program we have here. And so we are a very welcoming city to immigrants from Nigeria and the other African countries.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We’re going to go back, if we have time, sir, to a follow-up question I believe Sandra Muller has. She has activated her audio. Sandra, please go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes. Does it work? Sorry – so sorry for that. I had some technical issues. Sorry I wasn’t there in the beginning. I know somebody who is close from (inaudible) who bought a lot of house in Detroit when nobody wanted them and is working every day to build it and to renting and to buy it and to sell it. So I know Detroit because of that, and – yeah, I have a special link with Detroit. And my question is how that – is how about the criminality in Detroit? I think it’s better, but how can it better and – and there is some company, I remember – there is (inaudible) – (inaudible), they make (inaudible), and that is also a French restaurant with a chef, so Detroit started to grow like five years ago, four years ago. Can you tell me the last company and what you are expected exactly and how you can – as a company, what is the tax help of something like this? Thank you.
MR DUGGAN: Yeah, so the last company that came in of major scope from France was Faurecia, which is making dashboards for the Ford trucks on the west side of Detroit. They’ve been a great partner, and we are supporting them and continuing to expand. So we love them. You’re right. We are seeing investments in houses. We probably don’t have as many French restaurants as some other cities, but we would love to see more of that. Is your friend happy with the investment that he made in the city?
MODERATOR: Sandra, I apologize. You’ve been muted.
QUESTION: Yeah, he’s really, really happy. The market is good and just sometimes it’s difficult because – how can I explain – because of the criminality and sometimes it can be – but it’s challenging, but, yeah, he loves to be there, and yeah, he’s really happy. He bought already 15 house, and he renovated with his (inaudible) and he sell it and he rent it. So he’s a French guy in Detroit, and he’s rebuilding Detroit, which is really, really funny, right. And, yeah, he is really happy, and I think the downtown is changing too and there is much more construction, and it’s more difficult during COVID, but it’s better now. The only trouble – but I think it’s getting better – is sometimes the criminality, but that’s it. So I wanted to have some —
MR DUGGAN: Yeah.
QUESTION: If you have some data, sorry I wasn’t there at the beginning. I have some issue with my phone. Sorry for that.
MR DUGGAN: Yeah, so the answer is you’re absolutely right. We are dealing with a crime issue, as is every other major city in America. It got worse during COVID for a lot of reasons. But we are down from the peak we had seven or eight years ago, but we’re putting a lot more effort into it. And people like your friend, the problem tends to be that they’ll be in the middle of a renovation and somebody will steal a furnace. And that has been an issue, but we’ve gotten it, I think, a long way under control. And right now I think people are doing very well. So I’m glad to hear your friend is doing well. And I should just let you answer the questions here for me.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Okay, we can (inaudible).
MR DUGGAN: There you go.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
MODERATOR: Well, thank you. I think that seeing that there are no additional questions, I appreciate your time, Mayor Duggan, for joining us today. And again, this briefing was on the record. We’ll share the transcript with everyone who has participated later today, and we’ll post it on our website at fpc.state.gov. Thank you, Mayor Duggan.
MR DUGGAN: Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: Have a good day