Motor City rolls on to tech, health care

Detroit has long been known as the Motor City. Don’t trying telling city officials that it isn’t anymore.

Much of the city’s automotive production left long ago, as manufacturers and suppliers moved operations to lower-cost southern states.

But Detroit officials will quickly remind you of significant auto operations that are still here -- and are, in some cases, growing.

They’ll point to General Motors Co., which has its world headquarters in the Renaissance Center on the Detroit River, employing about 4,000 workers.

GM also operates a huge assembly plant straddling the Detroit-Hamtramck border that builds the Chevrolet Volt and is being retooled to add production of the all-new 2014 Chevrolet Impala, which goes on sale next year.

The plant, which opened in 1985, employs 1,350 workers.

Officials also point to Chrysler Group’s Jefferson North plant, which will add 1,100 workers next year to crank out Jeep and Maserati SUVs on three shifts a day.

"GM and Chrysler renewed their commitment to assembly plants in city," said Olga Stella, vice president of business development at the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. "That’s helped us attract new suppliers to city."

But lately, Detroit has been getting national attention for its technology-based companies, including Compuware Corp., the information technology arm of Strategic Staffing Solutions and a number of technology-based firms backed by Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert.

Quicken Loans and associated companies now employ about (UPDATE -- 6,000) 5,000 people in downtown Detroit.

Gilbert told National Public Radio earlier this year that he wants Detroit to become "one of the primary technology Web center development places in the whole United States."

Last year, Gilbert bought the downtown Madison Building, constructed in 1917, rechristened it the M@dison, and is renting space to technology companies.

Twitter, the popular microblogging service, announced in April that it would be opening an advertising office in the M@dison building.

Detroit, like other cities around Michigan, also has become a growing center for health care. Its two largest nongovernmental employers are the Detroit Medical Center with 10,823 employees and the Henry Ford Health System, which employs 8,774 people in the city.

The DMC dates back to 1886 with the opening of Children’s Hospital in Detroit. Henry Ford opened its doors to patients in 1915.

Other major long-time employers are still pumping millions of dollars into the city’s economy.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, founded in Detroit in 1939, recently moved 3,400 workers from Southfield to Detroit, bringing the health insurer’s total employment in the city to 6,400.

Another longtime Detroit company, DTE Energy, spent $50 million in 2008 on a renovation of its headquarters. Founded in 1886 as the Edison Illuminating Co. of Detroit, DTE employs 3,900 in the city.

New activity downtown also has drawn recent investment from the auto industry.

Last year, Gilbert bought the 23-story Dime Building, which was completed in 1912 for the Dime Savings Bank.

In April, the building was renamed Chrysler House, after Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne announced the company was leasing 33,000 square feet in the top two floors of the building and relocated 70 people there.

"Detroit and the auto industry are still very closely linked," said Robert Rossbach, a spokesman for the Detroit Economic Growth Corp.

Rick Haglund has had a distinguished career covering Michigan business, economics and government at newspapers throughout the state. Most recently, at Booth Newspapers he wrote a statewide business column and was one of only three such columnists in Michigan. He also covered the auto industry and Michigan’s economy extensively.

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