Cullen energizes banquet with story of Detroit turnaround

Hometown Life

Published 5:08 a.m. ET Oct. 11, 2017

Detroit’s business and cultural re-emergence grabbed the attention of western Wayne’s business and political leaders Tuesday at an annual gathering in Dearborn.

Matt Cullen, chief executive for Dan Gilbert’s family of businesses known as Rock Ventures, discussed the new construction, jobs, residents and energy that’s come to Midtown and downtown Detroit in recent years to some 400 gathered at the fifth annual Western Wayne Business Leadership Banquet.

Rock Ventures has invested more than $2 billion into Detroit properties over the past eight years and has plans to spend at least $2 billion more in the coming years. One of the planned future projects is to develop the former Hudson’s department store site into a modern, mixed-use complex.

“It is amazing to see the transformation we have seen in just eight years,” said Cullen, who displayed a series of before and after pictures from the Detroit Riverfront, Campus Martius and the Dequindre Cut to highlight the aesthetic and activity enhancements to these areas.

Gilbert’s focus on rebuilding Detroit started about a decade ago, when he decided to move his Quicken Loans headquarters from Livonia to the former Compuware Building near Campus Martius.

“We moved from Livonia and western Wayne County, not as a slight to the area, but we felt we could not do the work we wanted to do in Detroit from the sidelines,” Cullen said.

Since Quicken Loans moved 1,700 employees into its new Detroit offices in 2010, Gilbert’s investments have since fueled his family of companies to grow to more than 17,000 employees in downtown Detroit.

Cullen talked about Gilbert’s ongoing bid to attract an Amazon headquarters to Detroit, an endeavor that would attract some 50,000 new jobs. He said winning this bid wouldn’t just be good for Detroit, it would be good for the entire region.

“If these 50,000 jobs come to Detroit, only about 10,000 (workers) would live in the city,” Cullen said. “That means there are 40,000 others who would live, shop and dine in western Wayne, Oakland, Washtenaw and so on.”

Cullen’s presentation thrilled Westland Mayor William Wild.

“It was amazing to watch and feel the excitement from the 400-plus in the room,” Wild said. “To see so many elected officials, business owners, education and financial leaders so excited about the prospects for our region was truly inspiring.”

The Western Wayne Business Leadership Banquet is coordinated by the Conference of Western Wayne, which represents the 18 cities and townships in the region, and its chambers of commerce. The event is billed as the premier collaboration experience for western Wayne’s leaders.

The interactions and energy among the region’s elected, education and business leaders keeps John Hiltz, president of OHM Advisors in Livonia, involved in the banquet every year.

“Each year that I’ve attended,” Hiltz said, “I’ve always made new connections that resulted in opportunities to grow our business. 

Livonia Mayor Dennis Wright added he enjoyed watching the gathering of people interested in the region.

“Everybody seemed happy to be there,” Wright said. “I saw so many people moving from group to group to talk to other people and that was great to see. I know I ended up talking to so many people and they were all excited to be there.”

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