Ama­zon bid to test lead­er­ship team

Com­pe­ti­tion more keen than when city sought to host Su­per Bowl XL in 2006 Fash­ion CEO’s plan to bring hub to city an­nounced at 4th Detroit home­com­ing

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY CHRIS­TINE FERRETTI The Detroit News

Mayor Mike Dug­gan likens the gath­er­ing re­gional bid to land Ama­zon’s sec­ond head­quar­ters to de­liv­er­ing Detroit Su­per Bowl XL more than a decade ago.

But it’s not even close. The hunt for Ama­zon is far larger, far more com­pet­i­tive and far more likely to tax the abil­ity of just about any­one to cor­ral busi­ness, po­lit­i­cal and civic lead­ers around a dead­line mea­sured in weeks, not years. The dead­line is Oct. 19 to prof­fer a plan to com­pete for a $5 bil­lion in­vest­ment worth 50,000 jobs.

“We’ve got five weeks,” the mayor said Thurs­day at Crain’s Detroit Busi­ness’s Detroit Home­com­ing. “We’re up against re­ally tough com­pe­ti­tion from re­ally good cities.”

Yes, we are — as Detroit Re­gional Cham­ber CEO Sandy Baruah learned this week when he flew to Toronto for a speech on trade be­tween Canada and the United States. On the minds of the Cana­dian CEOs: lur­ing Ama­zon’s mas­sive eco­nomic play north of the bor­der, no mean feat in the era of Trump.

This is no se­cret to the on­line re­tail gi­ant, of course. With a sin­gle press re­lease, Ama­zon un­leashed an in­ter­state and in­ter­city feed­ing frenzy for a chance

Detroit — The city is try­ing to lure ex­pats back for ma­jor in­vest­ment and Mayor Mike Dug­gan on Thurs­day an­nounced it had landed a big one.

Fash­ion CEO Jef­fry Aron­s­son has com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing a plan in Fe­bru­ary for a fash­ion hub and cam­pus in Detroit. The lo­ca­tion, both said, is not yet de­ter­mined, but it’s ex­pected to en­gage smaller city-based com­pa­nies and “grow Detroit brands.”

“For me, this is a huge big cir­cle com­ing back and an op­por­tu­nity thanks to a vi­sion­ary mayor. To take the sum to­tal of a rather eclec­tic ca­reer and bring it home, this is a home­com­ing,” said Arons- son, who has been at the helm of ma­jor brands rang­ing from Donna Karan to Os­car de la Renta and Marc Ja­cobs. “I’m com­ing home to bring it to Detroit.”

Dug­gan un­veiled the plan dur­ing a Thurs­day speech at the fourth Detroit Home­com­ing. The event, held at the Fac­tory in Cork­town, seeks to draw back suc­cess­ful for­mer res­i­dents and spur in­vest­ments.

This con­cept evolved from a meet­ing Dug­gan had with Aron­s­son in New York about bring­ing a new fash­ion, ap­parel and lux­ury sec­tor to Detroit. Aron­s­son, whose fam­ily has roots in Cork­town and ran a suc­cess­ful restau­rant busi­ness, said

to land one of the big­gest eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment fish since, when? The stakes are high, and the cost is likely to be even higher.

That’s not de­ter­ring Detroit’s mayor, fac­ing re-elec­tion. It’s not de­ter­ring Quicken Loans Inc. Chair­man Dan Gil­bert, who quickly ac­cepted Dug­gan’s of­fer to chair the re­gional ef­fort to pre­pare an Ama­zon bid. And it’s not de­ter­ring lo­cal and state politi­cians, or a busi­ness com­mu­nity that is far more ac­tive in eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment ef­forts than their pre­de­ces­sors a decade ago. It shouldn’t. In fun­da­men­tal ways, this re­gion is dif­fer­ent than the one in­dus­tri­al­ist Roger Penske shep­herded through the process of bid­ding for a Su­per Bowl (at the per­sonal re­quest of Bill Ford Jr., whose fam­ily owns the Lions). It’s more com­pe­tent, more con­fi­dent and of­ten more re­gion­ally co­op­er­a­tive.

It’s wit­nessed the deep costs of divi­sion and po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion, of big busi­ness that wor­ries more about brag­ging rights with com­peti­tors than be­ing com­pet­i­tive. It’s tasted the ig­nominy of fi­nan­cial dis­so­lu­tion, and seen how pri­vate cap­i­tal can breed re­newal.

Weath­er­ing the near-col­lapse of two Detroit au­tomak­ers, the Great Re­ces­sion and the largest mu­nic­i­pal bank­ruptcy in Amer­i­can his­tory can do that. See­ing the cru­cial im­por­tance of in­di­vid­ual lead­ers in a broader mo­saic of lead­er­ship can, too. So can na­tional em­bar­rass­ment.

South­east Michi­gan is leg­endary for parochial in­fight­ing pitting city against sub­urb, for mea­sur­ing so­lu­tions to dif­fi­cult civic prob­lems in decades, not years, for fix­at­ing on why change can­not hap­pen in­stead of push­ing to make it hap­pen.

Which raises a crit­i­cal point that will be an­swered by the suc­cess of Gil­bert & Co. to rally dis­parate lead­ers quickly around a co­he­sive bid: Were the speed and de­ci­sive­ness of the auto re­struc­tur­ing, of the city’s fi­nan­cial work­out, of the re­vi­tal­iza­tion of down­town just his­tor­i­cal aber­ra­tions?

Or are they har­bin­gers of a can-do fu­ture lib­er­ated from the con­fronta­tional zero-sum game that helped drive Detroit and its home­town auto in­dus­try to the edge of com­plete fi­nan­cial col­lapse?

Look, no one should kid them­selves: For a bid that seeks ac­cess to re­gional tran­sit with con­nec­tions to an in­ter­na­tional air­port, the re­gion that put Amer­ica on wheels is woe­fully be­hind. For a bid that aims to cre­ate a sec­ond head­quar­ters hub for one of 21st-cen­tury Amer­ica’s iconic cor­po­rate brands, south­east Michi­gan isn’t too far re­moved from the stain of bank­ruptcy, mu­nic­i­pal and cor­po­rate.

How in­deli­ble are those Daniel.Howes@de­troit­news.com

(313) 222-2106 Daniel Howes’ col­umn runs Tues­days, Thurs­days and Fri­days. Fol­low him on

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DANIEL HOWES

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