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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Windsor faring just fine, mayor says, despite close proximity to troubled Detroit

By Armina Ligaya, Financial Post

Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis has an image problem on his hands. Not due to the city which he has governed since 2003, but thanks to the financial woes across the river after Detroit became the largest city in U.S. history file for bankruptcy. Ahead of a presentation Thursday to the Toronto Region Board of Trade about the Windsor-Detroit region, Mr. Francis spoke to Financial Post reporter Armina Ligaya about how Windsor is faring just fine, despite the optics.

Q: How is Windsor doing these days, despite being economically shackled to the world’s most famous bankrupt city?

A: The interesting thing about Detroit, is that the city itself that is bankrupt, the city government, not the community around it. The fact of the matter is, there’s been $10-billion dollars of investments in the city of Detroit. When I say that 97% of the downtown Detroit rental apartments are occupied, that’s not an exodus. The level of private sector leadership and investment that’s come to the table has helped begin process of rebuilding the community. The community restructured when we all went through the recession, the private sector and ourselves the city of Windsor, but the government of Detroit never did. And this is the government of Detroit, obviously, paying the price for that. Does it impact us? No. It would impact us if the private sector in Detroit was struggling.

Q: Surely, even given these positive developments, Windsor must have felt the pinch from Detroit’s bankruptcy.

A: The Detroit bankruptcy has a very significant and image perception issue. Obviously, people read the headlines, read the coverage, and all of a sudden the whole region wears that same perception. The image of the bankruptcy does have an impact on tourism, and it does have an impact on those looking to make investments. If you’re an investment person looking to locate a new company, or looking to relocate your business, you’re going to really think twice before investing in the city of Detroit.

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Q: You’re speaking to the Toronto Board of Trade Thursday about Windsor, but also to pitch Detroit. Isn’t this a hard sell?

A: It’s important for us to tell our story, to really show our people, a real classic case of a city, a region, that is turning around economically. And in doing so, you can’t have that conversation without talking about the elephant in the room. I think people walk away somewhat confused. ‘We just read about their bankruptcy, and they can’t turn on the lights. How can they have hundreds of millions of dollars of investments? How can they have apartments that are full, and condos that are full? I think the confusion comes around from the contradiction. Most people relate a city government bankrupt with a city shut down. And that’s not the case.

Q: Why not try to distance Windsor from the negative connotation?

A: First and foremost, we are one economic region here. And as an economic region, we all have a vested interest in the economic success of the region. There’s a border that separates us, [but] the fact of the matter is we are always going to remain as one economic unit. And two, we need Detroit to do well. My former colleague and good friend [former Chicago mayor] Richard Daley once pulled me aside several years ago, talking about how strong Chicago was, and how much the suburbs of Chicago benefitted. He said, ‘That’s why you need a strong Detroit.’ It has a tremendous benefit to Windsor.

Financial Post

Windsor-Essex

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