Dan Gilbert: Detroit could use an intern turnaround

Originally posted in Crain's Detroit Business on September 14, 2012

The single most effective way to move the needle in Detroit? Hire more interns, Dan Gilbert told the West Michigan Policy Forum this morning.

Gilbert told about 600 businesspeople from around the state that Quicken Loans Inc. had 8,700 applications from 157 colleges and universities for 600 full-time internships this summer.

In 2013, if major employers coordinated recruiting, “you could have 25,000 interns downtown,” he said.

“There’s nothing better you can do for the future … young 20-somethings aren’t leaving Michigan to go to Schaumburg, Illinois. They leave to go to downtown Chicago or Boston.”

Young adults want to be in cities, he said, and “Detroit sells itself once you get them here.”

In an earlier speech at the Detroit Athletic Club, Gilbert said he hoped to convene a meeting of major employers to try to ignite plans to draw 13,000 interns in the summer of 2013.

Today at the policy forum, Gilbert was part of a panel about urban revitalization. Other panelists were Dan Loepp, CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, and Dick DeVos, chairman of the Grand Action Group, which has led public-private partnerships for major economic projects in downtown Grand Rapids.

Loepp described the decision nine years ago to move Blue Cross employees in the Grand Rapids area into the long-vacant home of a department store icon, Steketee’s.

“It gave us the guts to do what we did in Detroit and Lansing,” Loepp said. Today, 98 percent of Blue Cross employees work in core cities, with 3,000 in downtown Detroit alone.

DeVos described the three-stage process of redeveloping downtown Grand Rapids, beginning with office-only (“You could shoot a cannon down the main street at 5:30 and nobody would be hurt”), to entertainment and convention venues, to the build-out of new residential options.

“People think things are done so much more easily in Grand Rapids,” DeVos said. “But the secret, someone has said, is that we try to agree publicly and disagree privately. I’m not sure that’s what happens in Southeast Michigan.”