Barry Matherly: Get pipelines of deals, companies.
  • Detroit Regional Partnership working with McKinsey, Brookings to develop economic development strategies
  • CEO joined group Jan. 3, embarked on a whirlwind “listen and learn” tour
  • Efforts geared to college graduates as well as those with high-school diplomas so whole region benefits
During a recent meeting to catch up on his first six months on the job, Barry Matherly, CEO of Southeast Michigan’s new economic development group, pulled out a notebook.

There, in the front cover, were five phrases or aspirations, as he called them, to ground him and his team as they work to develop economic development strategies for Southeast Michigan. Among them was the simple phrase “jobs for all.”

The phrase speaks to the equitable and inclusive approach to economic development Matherly and the Detroit Regional Partnership are developing, something he said will set the region apart from others around the country, since it’s incorporating it into its DNA right from the start.

Simple to say but complex in practice, the approach is meant to forestall the economic development equivalent of gentrification, Matherly said.

An equitable and inclusive approach ensures that as the wealth of the area goes up, the people who are here can still find jobs and aren’t pushed out of the job market, Matherly said.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure that everyone in the region wins with how we pick (companies to attract) and what we go after.”

The goal is to make Detroit the national model for an equitable and inclusive approach to economic development, Matherly said.

Operating on a dual track

The opportunity to make a difference in a market as large as Southeast Michigan and to live in a new place was too good to pass up for Matherly, 54, who brings 24 years experience in economic development in Virginia and North Carolina. With their daughters grown, he and his wife, Monica, packed up and moved to Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood, where they are building a house, right after the new year.

Matherly joined the new economic development nonprofit — which came to light at the 2018 Mackinac Policy Conference — on Jan. 3 and has been on a whirlwind tour ever since. He’s visited sites in its 11-county footprint and gone along on trips to China, Japan, and Israel with other staff and regional leaders. Four employees who transferred from the Detroit Regional Chamber have enabled that work to continue while the partnership develops its guiding economic development strategies. There were surprises during his “listen and learn” tour of the region in areas that don’t typically see the same national spotlight as Detroit proper, he said. Among them: the Ferris Wheel Innovation Center in downtown Flint, an entrepreneur center that encourages ideas from visitors who are walking by, and the Michigan Defense Center at Velocity, a Sterling Heights center for collaborative economic development in Macomb County.

The fact that Southeast Michigan has a healthy defense sector was a surprise itself, said Matherly, who saw more than his fair share of defense companies in Virginia.

Jobs for all

At the same time, Matherly hopes to make his mark by baking equitable and inclusive development into the partnership’s work right from the beginning.  He first learned of the approach as chair of the International Economic Development Council when Saginaw Future President JoAnn Crary brought before the council the idea of not just seeking employers with high-paying jobs for college graduates, but employers that bring jobs for people of all educational and economic levels. That was serendipitous, given that one of the questions during his interview for the job here was on that approach, he said.

That’s because foundations that contributed much of the partnership’s $6 million in annual operating funding for its first few years (with less in year one as the group ramps up) have a special interest in inclusive development, said Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber.

With another four employees, a couple on loan from local companies including Strategic Staffing Solutions and DTE Energy Co., working beside him, Matherly has engaged consulting firms including McKinsey & Co. and the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program to help develop a plan to guide its work.

McKinsey has completed a cluster analysis to identify the types of companies the region should recruit based on workforce attributes and other assets. For example, someone may work in an auto plant but be able to transfer those skills to several other jobs, Matherly said.

McKinsey is also evaluating segments that could provide jobs for people coming out of local colleges with degrees in areas like engineering and design. The partnership plans to finalize the clusters and launch efforts around them within the next month, Matherly said.

“What we’re leaning towards right now is to have kind of three clusters that are more product driven, like manufacturing, three clusters that are more service driven than more office-oriented clusters, and then a cluster that’s more talent-driven,” he said.

Brookings is identifying what it refers to as “good jobs” that don’t require a college degree but pay a good wage, Matherly said.

At the same time, it’s looking for “promising jobs” that might not include benefits put pay enough to live on, with a little left over, and more importantly, provide pathways to “good jobs,” he said.

As part of those efforts, the partnership is benchmarking a handful of other regions that have incorporated the “jobs for all” approach, including Cleveland, Indianapolis and the Syracuse area of New York.

“We will target companies that provide both good jobs (high-end) and promising jobs” that provide a path to better living, Matherly said. “We’re gonna have a mix.”

Tracking progress

To measure its impact, the partnership is looking at traditional metrics like jobs, investment and payroll, Matherly said. But metrics around prosperity are harder to determine.

Other regions that have seen lots of economic growth have done so by working to attract high-paying jobs and the companies that offer them.

“You look back, and it’s the same number of people in poverty that were there to start with; (the region) just grew because a lot of other people moved in from other places,” Matherly said.

“As we grow this region, we don’t want to create a bigger divide between haves and have nots.”

Inclusive economic development is an investment priority for the Hudson-Webber Foundation, which made a $150,000 grant over two years to support the work Brookings is doing for the partnership, said president and CEO Melanca Clark.

The grant speaks to the recognition Matherly and his team have that if not done with intentionality, “a regional economic development strategy could easily move forward while leaving vast segments of the population behind,”she said.