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Flex-N-Gate’s Detroit plant to prioritize city residents for jobs

Auto part supplier Flex-N-Gate has committed to hiring Detroiters first for the 400 jobs the company is creating with the construction of a new parts plant in the city’s I-94 Industrial Park that’s expected to begin early metal-stamping production by April.

“That’s our commitment,” Flex-N-Gate owner Shahid Khan said Monday after giving Mayor Mike Duggan a tour of the 450,000-square-foot manufacturing facility.

Khan said starting wages for the jobs would be announced at a later date.

But the Pakistani immigrant and billionaire owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars voiced support for a $20-per-hour national minimum wage.

“I believe to break the cycle of violence or poverty we need to do that,” Khan told reporters. “That probably would be a living wage that would give people the money where it’s more productive to do that than resort to other things.”

Khan said employees at his company’s existing plants in Allen Park, Royal Oak and Warren are paid “close to” a minimum wage of $20-per-hour “plus benefits.”

“We’ve always paid health care for employees, going back a long time,” he said.

Focus: Hope will train Flex-N-Gate hires through the city’s Detroit At Work workforce development program.

As of Monday afternoon, Flex-N-Gate had posted 20 jobs at the Detroit plant on its website, with open positions ranging from forklift drivers to press technicians and engineers and supervisors in welding, tooling and maintenance.

“It’s more brainpower, less muscle,” Khan said of the available jobs.

Flex-N-Gate is under no obligation to hire all Detroiters, as the company will have specialized positions in advanced manufacturing processes, Duggan said.

“I don’t know if 100 percent is realistic, but what I’ve asked, as I always ask, is that you take your first shot,” Duggan said. “If you can fill the jobs with Detroiters, we try to do that first. But if you need to get skills that we don’t have here yet, Mr. Khan is going to run his company efficiently and we’re going to keep training the next generation.”

Flex-N-Gate is spending $160 million on the new manufacturing facility at Georgia Street and Winfield Avenue, northeast of the I-94 and I-75 interchange. It’s the largest newly-built auto parts plant to be erected in Detroit in more than 20 years. Construction companies broke ground on the new plant in April last year.

The plant will have metal-stamping presses and injection-molding machines for parts Flex-N-Gate is building for Ford Motor Co. for a new vehicle that goes into production in October, said Bill Beistline, vice president of global procurement for Urbana, Ill.-based Flex-N-Gate.

Southfield-based construction firm Barton Malow is expected to begin erecting six stamping presses this week.

Early production with the metal-stamping presses will begin in April, while full production with the plastic injection-molding machines will start by October, Beistline said.

Walsh Construction Co. is the general contractor for construction of the new manufacturing plant.

Flex-N-Gate employs 23,000 across 62 manufacturing facilities and nine engineering and development sites across the U.S. and abroad.

The auto supplier also received a $500,000 performance-based state grant last fall to open a $2.2 million research and development center in Sterling Heights.

Source: Crain’s Detroit Business

Photo Courtesy: Crain’s Detroit Business

The Detroit News highlights Mayor Duggan’s second term

Quicken Loans founder and Chairman Dan Gilbert, whose family of companies employs about 17,000 in the city, agrees jobs in Detroit must be the first priority. Gilbert and Duggan have joined forces on numerous projects to develop and strengthen the city, and the two routinely appear together at major initiatives and projects.

“Anybody in Detroit who wants to work and can work, in my opinion, should be able to have an opportunity to get into the workforce,” Gilbert told The News. “That’s (Duggan’s) view as well.”

Duggan’s first term, Gilbert noted, has brought progress in the “big four” categories: blight, crime, education and jobs.

The city this summer celebrated an 8.4 percent jobless rate — its lowest since 2001, based on figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Last year, it also recorded its lowest number of homicides since 1966.

At the same time, neighborhood property values are climbing, and Detroit has torn down upward of 13,300 blighted homes under a federally funded program despite being under heavy scrutiny by the federal government.

The successes, Gilbert said, are reflected in Duggan’s landslide re-election. .

“Everybody is taking note of that,” he said. “I think he has a mandate to continue the job he’s done.”

Future plans

Duggan focused heavily on improving basic city services in his first four years and made progress on rebuilding business districts in some neighborhoods. The mayor said he’s now hoping to extend those efforts.

In October, Detroit’s council signed off on a $125 million bond program to revitalize a couple of dozen key commercial corridors. The enhancements are part of a broader $317 million plan to improve 300 miles of roadway and replace 300,000 damaged city sidewalks over the next five years, Duggan said.

Under the plan, major infrastructure improvements are planned in the Livernois-McNichols, West Vernor and East Warren districts, among others. The upgrades will range from landscaping to bike lanes, improved on-street parking and wider sidewalks.

“So now, the question is ‘OK, how do I, as a Detroiter, apply to the companies who are bidding on this work? How do I get hired? What kind of training do I need?’ ” Duggan said.

Detroit, he said, has found success with programs such as Motor City Match and the Entrepreneurs of Color Fund. But this term, Duggan hopes to ramp up participation in Detroit at Work, an initiative his administration rolled out last winter that he regards as a key part of the city’s effort to reduce joblessness. The program aims to better connect city job seekers with employers through training.

“We haven’t made Detroiters conscious enough of all the opportunities there are,” he said. “A goal in 2018 is we’re going to break through.”

Council President Brenda Jones said creating and retaining jobs remains a top priority for the City Council this term, too. Jones is working on legislation geared toward ensuring Detroit-based and headquartered businesses are sharing in more city projects.

“I will be working hard to try to make sure we move forward the agendas for the people in the communities in the neighborhoods,” she said. “I want to ensure that we are not losing our small businesses in the city of Detroit.”

But even if more Detroiters take advantage of job training resources, they still face a series of barriers. Chiefly, “unconscionable” auto insurance rates, Duggan said.

“All you’ve got to do is ask the average Detroiter, what is the biggest downside of living in Detroit?” he said. “They will all say car insurance.”

The mayor last year was pushing an auto insurance reform bill that was defeated in November in the state House. Before that, a city-initiated proposal to lower rates failed to gain enough support. Duggan said he remains optimistic that there will be buy-in for the proposal among lawmakers.

“Two years ago, I was 10 votes away. This year, we were three votes away. This next cycle, we’ll be there,” Duggan said. “We’re getting closer. … It’ll be maybe 2018, maybe 2019, but it’s coming.”

No ‘two Detroits’

In a separate effort to improve transit, Duggan last week said regional leaders have revived talks about a potential millage for the November ballot.

Voters narrowly rejected a tax hike more than two years ago that would have expanded mass transit in southeastern Michigan. A timetable on the announcement, Duggan said, is “not going to be very long.”

Robin Boyle, a professor with Wayne State University’s Department of Urban Studies & Planning, credited Duggan for his assertive position on regional collaboration. He also stressed that an improved city school system will be key in how far Detroit’s neighborhood revitalization goes.

“There is a genuine awareness that taking policies and programs, initiatives and spending into Detroit neighborhoods is clearly on the agenda,” he said. “The question is: How do you do that? How do you get families to invest in the neighborhoods if the schools are still unacceptable to many?”

Now that the city’s downtown, New Center, Corktown and West Village areas are making money, Duggan said he wants to show developers the same successes can be had in city neighborhoods.

“That’s when you are going to see development really take off,” he said.

Although the city’s core is booming, many areas continue to struggle with blight, and Detroit’s poverty and crime rates remain among the highest in the nation.

Duggan, however, says he rejects the narrative of “two Detroits,” calling it “90 percent media.”

“Everybody understands in any city in America there are wealthy areas and poor areas,” he said. “What the real question is, is not ‘are there people here who are better off than I am?’ The question people have is, ‘is there a path for me to gain skills, raise my standard of living, improve my neighborhood and have better opportunities here?’ And that’s what we’re working on building.”

Gilbert said he, too, views the city as “one Detroit.” To have neighborhoods thrive in any major city, he said, there has to be a strong urban core.

But for lifelong residents like Michael Miller, the division between the growth downtown and its neighborhoods is real.

“I was born and raised in the inner city. The neighborhoods are actually getting worse. You can’t cover it up,” said Miller, 39, who now lives in Detroit’s Sherwood Forest neighborhood.

“The mayor’s plan going forward, he said, “sounds good,” but “how many times have you heard something that sounds good?”

East side resident Mark Covington said Detroit has made progress in the last four years. A neighborhood focus, he said, is what’s needed now.

“Everything (Duggan) has accomplished so far, I hope it continues,” said Covington, who lives near City Airport. “I’m hoping that he stays true to his word that this next four years his focus will be in the neighborhoods.”

Business growth focus

Detroit, the mayor said, has made strides in building density in its downtown and Midtown with development projects led in part by the billionaire Ilitch family and Gilbert.

Gilbert’s Bedrock Detroit has four transformational projects in the works to redefine the downtown. Gilbert said the city is likely to see its biggest construction boom since the 1920s.

“We’ve got a city that’s growing again, that’s going to be building things. You are seeing economic activity and hope,” he said. “Not just downtown buildings, but there’s neighborhoods coming online now for the first time in decades.”

Duggan said the city has a “clear plan” on where it’s going and Gilbert’s initiatives “absolutely are woven into that plan.”

Gilbert also recently led a bid committee that crafted a plan to lure Amazon to Detroit for a second headquarters.

Duggan said he believes the city remains competitive among the North American cities that submitted proposals to the Seattle-based online retail giant last fall. Gilbert also is optimistic.

“If you look at all rational reasoning of what they need and what we have and where we sit geographically and everything else, I believe we should be one of the top favorites for this thing,” Gilbert said.

Duggan also has made a point of being judged on Detroit’s population growth. He believes updated figures expected this spring will show the city grew in 2017, reversing a 60-year decline. Detroit has been losing people since it hit a peak population of 1.85 million in 1950. But in recent years that decline has dramatically slowed.

When Duggan took office Jan. 1, 2014, the city’s population was around 680,000. As of last summer, it was estimated at 672,795.

The administration has also touted an unprecedented demolition program that’s brought down more than 13,300 blighted houses since spring 2014. But the effort hasn’t been without controversy.

The program has been the focus of a federal criminal investigation as well as state and local reviews amid concerns over soaring costs and bidding practices that came to light in 2015.

The News reported in June that a federal grand jury is focused on whether federal money was misappropriated while Detroit spent nearly $200 million to tear down homes after the city’s bankruptcy.

Duggan has said he hopes the investigation is speedy and anyone who did wrong should be held accountable. If they didn’t, he said, they should be cleared.

The mayor last week quickly also shot down inquiries over whether he may throw his hat into the ring for the 2018 race for Michigan’s governor, reiterating he has no plans to leave his position in Detroit.

He hasn’t publicly pledged support yet to any other candidates in the race, but last month established the Duggan Leadership Fund, an independent political action committee to throw financial support behind candidates in that race as well as congressional and state legislative races where “Detroit’s interests lie.”

“The filing deadline is a couple months away, and I’m watching the candidates,” said Duggan, about the gubernatorial race. “I’m looking to see who is going to articulate a vision that most resonates with Detroiters, and I will get strongly behind a candidate before the primary is over.”

Source: The Detroit News

Construction builds up hope for Detroit’s 2017

A string of major construction projects — from a massive hockey arena and street car line down Woodward to the resurrection of the Wayne County jail project — will reshape downtown Detroit in 2017. 

It’s a flurry of activity and investment that seemed wildly improbable less than a decade ago. But the construction detours and closed sidewalks are a welcome sign of a new era for many who live and work near downtown.

“I’m excited about all of (the developments) as long as they’re bringing more jobs and better opportunities to the city,” said Denzel Walls, 26, of Detroit. “That’s what we need.”

Those who work and play downtown should be able to get around more easily once the QLine street car project begins initial operations in spring. Work crews finished curb-to-curb reconstruction of 2.5 miles of Woodward between Sibley and Chandler in December.

Six streetcars, owned and operated by the M-1 Rail nonprofit, will run along a 6.6-mile loop between Campus Martius downtown and New Center. A decade and $140 million in the making, the line will deliver passengers along the route at speeds of up to 35 mph.

“I’ll definitely use that to get around,” Walls said. “And to get a view of the city.”

 More and more people are likely to do the same, according to recent statistics that show office vacancies in the downtown area are at their lowest point in a decade. The addition of the rail line could open demand in the New Center area. The lines also could increase demand for office space in neighborhoods near downtown such as Corktown and Eastern Market.

East of Woodward, construction is underway in Brush Park on what is considered Detroit’s largest residential development in decades. Construction started in early December on a massive, $70 million housing project, spearheaded by Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert, that will include 410 town homes, duplexes, carriage homes and apartments.

The Motor City’s upscale housing offerings will get a boost from work underway on Orleans Landing, a 7-plus acre housing and retail complex just a block from the Detroit River.

While office and residential development are getting a boost, Detroit continues to carve its niche as a magnet for artists, designers and young professionals. And in 2017, the symbol of that identity may come to be the Quonset hut.

Popping up in the area between Core City and Woodbrdge is a village of the corrugated steel structures. New York investor Philip Kafka, who began his own attempts at reshaping Detroit five years ago, hopes a collection of nine Quonset huts near Grand River and Warren Avenue will eventually become a start-up location for local artists and entrepreneurs.

Little Caesars Arena will be the focal point of an entertainment district that studies show could have a $596 million impact on southeast Michigan.

In October, Christopher Ilitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings Inc., said “we’ve got about 52 projects right now on the board” for the area around the arena.

Soccer also could play a crucial role in the fate of another major site downtown — the abandoned Wayne County Jail project. The property, at the north end of Greektown, has been in limbo for years after cost estimates soared for a new detention facility.

Gilbert, along with Pistons owner Tom Gores, have floated the idea of bringing a Major League Soccer franchise to Detroit. They hope to construct a stadium complex at the jail site.

Before that could become a reality, there is a series of hurdles in the way — not the least of which is the 10 other cites vying for an Major League Soccer franchise.

Construction on the $220 million project began in 2011, under then-County Executive Robert Ficano. The proposed 2,000-bed project near the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice was halted in June 2013 amid $100 million in overruns and charges of corruption.

About $151 million was spent in construction, acquisition and design of the jail, with much of the work done underground, according to officials.

The half-finished jail has sat unused at a cost of $1.3 million a month, county officials estimate. The site is bounded by Gratiot, the Chrysler Service Drive, Macomb and Beaubien.

Story: Detroit News
Photo: Todd McInturf, Detroit News

Jobs program boards up schools; Detroiters find careers

September 26, 2015 – Ann Zaniewski, Detroit Free PressYouth work boarding up vacant schools

A small army of workers descended Friday on the vacant Greenfield Park Elementary in Detroit, where they pounded plywood over broken-out windows in an effort to make the building — and the neighborhood — a little safer.

Their work is not only sprucing up the city, but also leading to new careers.

The Opportunity Detroit Youth & Trades Board-Up Program gives young Detroiters a chance to learn about the construction trade while getting paid to board up blighted buildings.

The initiative from Mayor Mike Duggan’s office kicked off in June. Workers have nearly finished their task of securing vacant schools across the city.

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SERCO, Inc. awarded $4.2M One-Stop contract

Detroit Workforce agency DESC selects Detroit-based SERCO, Inc. (SER Metro-Detroit) for $4.2M One-Stop contract

Detroit, MI – The city’s workforce and training agency Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation (DESC) has selected Detroit-based SERCO, Inc., the subsidiary company of SER Metro-Detroit, to manage day-to-day operations at its 3 One-Stop service centers, replacing New York-based Grant Associates Inc.

Pamela Moore
Pamela Moore, President & CEO of DESC

The decision, ratified by a vote of the Detroit Employment Solutions Board, makes SER Metro the largest vendor of DESC in providing workforce and training solutions to over 25,000 Detroit jobseekers every year.

“Today’s selection of SERCO, Inc. comes at an exciting and demanding time” said DESC President and CEO, Pamela Moore. “We have a highly competitive bid process, but after all reviews were completed, we believe that SERCO’s expertise and track record made the most compelling case.”

The 15 month service contract, valued at $4.2MM, makes SERCO responsible for providing jobseekers with access to job opportunities, training, education, career advisement and numerous other services at DESC’s three Detroit One-Stop service centers, located at Samaritan Center at 5555 Conner on the eastside, Northwest Activities Center at 18100 Meyers, and at SER Metro’s own facility at 9301 Michigan in southwest Detroit.
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