Michigan Blue Cross VP Tricia Keith Discusses Urban Revitalization at 'Transformation Detroit'
by Sven Gustafson
| 3 min read
With about half of its 3,000 workers slated to move downtown already working in the Renaissance Center, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is playing an active role in efforts to revitalize Detroit. This relocation of 3,000 workers from a suburban Southfield location will bring the company's total workforce to approximately 6,000 total once the move is completed later this year. Tricia Keith, vice president, Corporate Secretary and Services at BCBSM, spoke about the effort she is spearheading to transfer employees from Southfield to downtown Detroit at Transformation Detroit, a three-day briefing with local and national journalists and bloggers hosted by the Detroit Regional News Hub. Keith appeared on a panel discussing efforts to revitalize the city with Allan Gilmour, president of Wayne State University, and Robert Riney, president and chief operating officer of Henry Ford Health System. Keith recounted how, during a senior leadership meeting in 2008, with the economy souring and uncertainty over Detroit’s auto industry mounting, CEO Daniel J. Loepp asked her to look into the idea of relocating the company’s Southfield campus to the RenCen, where General Motors had made a number of improvements. “We had a beautiful corporate campus headquarters-style campus there but spent a lot of time going back and forth and that’s a lot of lost productivity and time,” Keith said. “We also had two very distinct corporate cultures between the headquarters and the Southfield campus.” Keith said the company faced “major hurdles” in announcing the move to Southfield-based employees, some of whom had avoided setting foot in Detroit for years. So officials decided to approach the move from a socialization and change-management perspective. “We took a really wide view of what we were going to do. It wasn’t about showing them what their new cubicle was going to look like — although we did that — but it was about re-introducing them to the city. We sought fun, safe family friendly environments in which to introduce them to the city.” In addition to winning positive reviews from employees who toured their soon-to-be-new workplace, vendors embraced the news enthusiastically. BCBSM shared demographic data freely with developers, Keith said. A gourmet deli located in the RenCen Towers 500 and 600 “was ready to leave” until learning of Blue Cross’ plans to move in, she said. Instead, the Blues move will push the RenCen’s occupancy to 92 percent and add $180 million in incremental tax revenue for Detroit when completed in April 2012, Keith said. “Every day now, we’re going to have the opportunity to put 6,000 employees on the streets in a three-block radius in Detroit, and think about how that will fundamentally transform the opportunities in retail, in so many things in terms of public perceptions of safety and everything else,” she said. Gilmour spoke about the importance of major universities and partnering health care institutions to the recoveries of major U.S. cities. He said Wayne State benefits from having “good neighbors” in many of the city’s cultural institutions as well as Henry Ford and the Detroit Medical Center and noted the Midtown neighborhood it calls home has given rise to new businesses open and renovated lofts and apartments. “Despite what you hear the politicians are doing and the mayor is doing, I would argue that we are making progress,” he said. Meanwhile, Henry Ford is moving aggressively in its efforts to redevelop 300 acres near its anchor hospital campus on West Grand Boulevard, Riney said. The health system has identified Detroit’s economic transformation as one of its top five goals and has an ambitious plan to transform the blighted area into retail, housing and medical office development. Henry Ford, Wayne State and the DMC are also offering financial incentives to encourage employees to move to Midtown. “I’m a big believer in the tipping point and I believe we are hitting a tipping point,” Riney said.