West Michigan firms see Detroit’s potential
Motor City is becoming more interested in this area’s cultural amenities.
Back in the 1930s, 47 Commerce Ave. SW housed an auto repair shop. Fast forward to the mid-1990s and the building was then a shuttered warehouse that characterized downtown Grand Rapids’ urban blight.
Today, however, the now-LEED Gold certified building houses Lambert, Edwards & Associates, Michigan’s largest investor relations and public affairs firm.
The repurposed structure is a micro-example of the potential Detroit is offering, said Jeff Lambert at a recent Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce Business Matters Series forum held at Calvin College’s Prince Conference Center. Lambert’s speech was titled, “Don’t be Afraid of Detroit.”
There are, of course, some hurdles that need to be cleared, including the fear some people have of Detroit’s crime rate, its ghost-town-like suburbs, and a massive city deficit.
Lambert, president and managing partner of LE&A, wasn’t dissuaded by Detroit’s stereotypes. He said his firm’s decision to establish an office in downtown Detroit offered an opportunity to expand its client base.
The agency’s expansion prospects started in 2009 with the acquisition of Detroit-based John Bailey & Associates, making LE&A one of the largest PR firms in Michigan, with offices in Grand Rapids, Detroit and Lansing.
Similar to its Grand Rapids location, LE&A’s Detroit agency operates out of a former retail store that sat empty for 18 years.
“We looked at Detroit as an opportunity there in that market to serve clients that have broader industries as well as the opportunity to serve larger companies,” said Lambert. “So we thought greater market opportunities and prospective clients looking for a statewide firm (was the way to go), so we became the only statewide firm to serve three major markets in Michigan.”
Lambert said he noticed something not heard enough about Detroit: passion.
“I saw passion in the people of downtown Detroit,” he said.
With that passion, he said, Detroit also is less inclined to harbor a standoffish attitude toward West Michigan due, in part, to the expansion of cultural amenities.
“Detroit leaders are coming over to ArtPrize,” Lambert said. “The tenor is significantly different. Detroit and West Michigan tend now to schedule events that are not on top of each other.”
It’s about adopting a different attitude, said Lambert.
“We need to stop trashing Detroit,” he said. “Great things are going on in Detroit. Detroit folks speak highly of West Michigan, about its entrepreneurship and public-private initiatives. They’re looking at that.”