Detroit, Michigan: Henry Ford Health System Supports Community and Economic Development
With five hospitals located throughout southeastern Michigan and nearly 15,000 full-time employees in its medical services network, the Henry Ford Health System (HFHS) is one of the largest employers in Michigan and a key economic driver in the state. HFHS employs 8,200 people in Detroit and generates approximately $6 billion for the metropolitan economy. In recent years, the healthcare provider has made a concerted effort to leverage its significant presence in Detroit, the home of its flagship hospital, to support both broad and targeted strategies for community and economic development.
Background and Context
Once a powerful symbol of American innovation, Detroit today epitomizes many of the challenges facing cities in the nation’s Rust Belt. The decline of the automobile industry, among other factors, has wrought dramatic economic and demographic changes. Since reaching its peak population of 1.85 million in 1950, the city has lost more than 1 million residents — 250,000 since 2000 alone. By 2013, slightly less than 689,000 people called Detroit home. Approximately 38 percent of Detroit’s residents live in poverty, compared with 16.3 percent for the state of Michigan, and the city has one of the highest unemployment rates of any urban area in the country. In Detroit’s neighborhoods, vacancy and abandonment are commonplace. Data from the Detroit Residential Parcel Survey show that nearly 27 percent of residential properties in the city are vacant, perpetuating a cycle fueled by disinvestment and waning public resources.
Despite these significant challenges, the city still has several major education and healthcare institutions — including HFHS, Detroit Medical Center, and Wayne State University — that are playing important roles in moving toward economic recovery. Taken together, companies in the healthcare and education industries employed the third largest number of people in the Detroit area in 2014, providing more jobs than the manufacturing sector. These institutions, along with philanthropic, public-, and private-sector partners, are devoting resources to revitalize the city and its neighborhoods.
Thomas J. Sugrue. 2004–2010. “From Motor City to Motor Metropolis: How the Automobile Reshaped Urban America.” Automobile in American Life and Society, University of Michigan — Dearborn and Benson Ford Research Center website.×
U.S. Census Bureau. 2013. “Population Estimates,” Population Estimates Program, American Fact Finder. Accessed 30 April 2014; U.S. Census Bureau. “Census 2000 Summary File 1,” American Fact Finder. Accessed 30 April 2014.×
U.S. Census Bureau. “2008-12 American Community Survey, 5-Year Estimates,” American Fact Finder. Accessed 30 April 2014; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2013. “Unemployment Rates for the 50 Largest Cities.” Accessed 30 April 2014.×
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2014. “Detroit Area Economic Summary.” Accessed 30 April 2014.×
Collaborative Anchor Strategies
Many of these efforts focus on the neighborhoods within the Woodward Avenue corridor, an arterial street that extends northwest from downtown Detroit. Known as the birthplace of the automobile industry, the corridor is near many of the city’s largest employers, including the Detroit Medical Center, Wayne State University, and HFHS’s flagship hospital and education and research complex. These institutions, which together employ approximately 28,000 people at their campuses in the Midtown and New Center neighborhoods, have been working to support economic development along the corridor, in its adjacent neighborhoods, and in the larger community. These institutions have formed a partnership to implement a coordinated “anchor strategy” focused on bringing stability and economic development to the neighborhoods.
Michigan Department of Transportation. 2003. “Woodward Avenue: A Road to the Heart and Soul of America,” MDOT Today. Accessed 21 April 2014.×
Henry Ford Facts and Statistics; Detroit Medical Center. “Careers.” Accessed 21 April 2014; Wayne State University. 2013. “Wayne State University Fact Book”; Woodward Corridor Initiative. “2011 Annual Report,” 7. Accessed 21 April 2014.×
Part of this strategy, the Live Midtown program, is supporting population growth in Midtown, New Center, and other neighborhoods along the Woodward Avenue corridor. With additional support from the Hudson-Webber Foundation, Kresge Foundation, and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, the institutions offer financial incentives for their employees to move to or continue living in the focus neighborhoods. The program includes different sets of financial incentives for new and existing homeowners and renters.
In its first 3 years, Live Midtown assisted nearly 800 employees, increasing neighborhood populations and lowering vacancy rates. Noel Baril, vice president of talent selection and rewards at HFHS, notes that nearly 250 HFHS employees have used the program. Based on the demand for housing that many see as driven by the program, Live Midtown recently expanded its geographic boundaries to include a neighborhood north of the HFHS campus. In addition to helping HFHS attract and retain talent, the program is supporting the revitalization of the business district and the expansion of nearby services and amenities.
The coordinated anchor strategy also includes a pilot program that links Detroit residents with employment opportunities at HFHS. The anchor partnered with Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation (DESC) to screen city and neighborhood residents applying for jobs at the hospital. In the initial phase of the pilot, DESC helped 75 residents secure employment.
Interview with Noel Baril. 29 April 2014.×
Interview with Noel Baril. 29 April 2014.×
In addition to its involvement in the anchor strategy, HFHS is taking a lead role in the revitalization of the neighborhood directly south of its campus through the planned expansion of its facilities. Just outside of the Woodward Avenue corridor and surrounded by highways and arterial streets, the neighborhood has not seen the level of reinvestment that has taken place in the Midtown and New Center neighborhoods. To accommodate its expansion, HFHS recognized some of the neighborhood’s challenges — high rates of residential vacancy, underutilized industrial land, and a number of surface parking lots — as opportunities to advance mutually beneficial investments.
Interview with Tom Habitz, urban specialist, Henry Ford Health System, 24 April 2014.×
Documents provided by Tom Habitz, Henry Ford Health System.×
HFHS engaged area residents to help prepare a master plan for the neighborhood that integrates HFHS’s facility needs with the needs of the community. The plan provides a programmatic and physical framework for redevelopment, detailing how institutional, private, and public investments can be used to improve the quality of the neighborhood and the lives of its residents. These investments include urban design considerations such as road realignments, parks, and streetscape improvements that support neighborhood-scale development and more closely link HFHS’s existing campus to the neighborhood. HFHS is committing hundreds of millions of dollars to implement the plan, which calls for medical, educational, and research facilities as well as housing, neighborhood-serving businesses, and light industrial development. HFHS is also encouraging public support and funding for multimodal transportation and other infrastructure improvements.
Although the plan is still in the early stages of implementation, there are promising signs of its potential impact. A medical supply facility is being constructed on land that HFHS assembled; when completed, the facility will bring approximately 140 permanent jobs to the area. Tom Habitz, urban planning specialist with HFHS, notes that the master plan played a key role in bringing the supplier to the neighborhood, as did the company’s business relationships with HFHS and Detroit Medical Center. Construction on HFHS medical and educational facilities could begin soon, and the organization plans to phase in a series of housing developments over the next several years.
Internal documents provided by Tom Habitz, Henry Ford Health System.×
Email correspondence with Tom Habitz, 15 May 2014.×
Anchoring the New Detroit
Detroit’s anchor institutions are playing an ever more important role in the city’s recovery from decades of steady decline. Through partnerships with other large institutions, HFHS is working to ensure that the substantial economic footprint of anchor institutions benefits the city, its neighborhoods, and its residents. Through campus expansion planning, HFHS is pursuing collaborative planning to merge the needs of the community with those of the institution.
Community development efforts by anchor institutions in Detroit are also presented in a featured article in The Edge.