Downtown employers unveil details of Live Downtown incentive program

Posted on July 26, 2011

For companies headquartered in Detroit, spending more than $4 million over five years to encourage employees to move downtown is more than just altruism, CEOs say. It’s sound business thinking.

“We’ve bet the farm on the city of Detroit,” said Daniel Loepp, CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan at a press conference today to announce the kickoff of Live Downtown, a program through which employees of Blue Cross, DTE Energy Co., Compuware Corp., Quicken Loans Inc. and Strategic Staffing Solutions can receive cash incentives to move into the city. Existing residents are eligible for rental assistance or for matching funds for home improvement projects.

“We made a tremendous investment in the city,” Loepp said. “To make the city stronger makes all the business sense in the world.”

DTE is based in the city of Detroit, said Paul Hillegonds, DTE senior vice president for corporate affairs, and so are many of its customers.

“The city of Detroit is important to DTE,” he said — but a strong city is also important in terms of attracting and retaining young talent.

The Live Downtown program is modeled after the successful Live Midtown program, through which Wayne State University, the Detroit Medical Center and Henry Ford Health System, along with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority and the Hudson-Webber Foundation, offer employees incentives to move to or stay in Detroit’s Midtown.

About 165 people have received rental assistance thus far through the Live Midtown program, according to The Detroit News.

Live Downtown neighborhoods are Corktown, Downtown, Eastern Market, Lafayette Park, Midtown and Woodbridge.

Here’s how the incentives work: New homeowners can receive a $20,000 forgivable loan; new renters a $2,500 rental allowance (and $1,000 for the second year). In addition, existing renters will receive $1,000 for renewing a lease, and existing homeowners can receive matching funds of up to $5,000 for exterior improvements on projects of $10,000 or more.

More than 15,000 employees at the five companies will be eligible for the program.

The employers have each pledged $200,000 a year for five years; all said the level of spending could change if demand spikes in the first year.

Loepp said the first Blue Cross employee had applied for the program by 10 a.m. Monday.

“There’s a buzz,” he said.

The program is administered through Midtown Detroit Inc. The Hudson-Webber Foundation has contributed administration costs, organization leaders said today.