Ask Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis how the bankruptcy situation on the American side of the river affects his city, and he has a ready answer.
“It’s given me more speaking opportunities,” he says. “Basically speaking about how the bankruptcy should not be a reflection on the community of Detroit. It’s the city government that’s bankrupt.”
As the three-term elected leader of the Canadian city closest to and most often compared to Detroit, Francis expected the attention when the largest municipal bankruptcy petition in U.S. history was filed in July.
If the American city across the river had $18 billion in debt, what was the situation in Windsor?
“I think it’s affected us from an image perspective but we have to get out there and tell the story of it,” Francis says.
While Windsor is no Detroit, it’s not immune to the economic downturn of the last few years. Some economic conditions in Ontario are similar to southeast Michigan’s.
For example, several credit agencies have lowered their outlook on the province in the last year and growing governmental debt is a concern, according to an annual report “Emerging Stronger 2014: A Transformative Agenda for Ontario’s Economic Future,” produced, in part, by the Ontario Chamber and the Windsor-Essex Chamber of Commerce.
The same report found Windsor suffers from the lowest score in a Regional Confidence Index and predicted unemployment in the city to remain at 8.8 percent for the year.
So Francis, as the mayor of a Canadian city that also has some, ahem, challenges, knows what his various audiences may want or expect to hear about Detroit.
But he’s found, surprise, surprise, that they are unaware of yet receptive to some of the possible signs of an economic upturn in the Motor City. For example, Dan Gilbert’s investment in his expanding downtown infrastructure and high residential occupancy rates in the core city surprise his Canadian audiences.
In his public appearances as well as private conversations, Francis says he fights the perceptions of Detroit as a, well, something L. Brooks Patterson might describe. (My words, not his!)
Francis, instead, describes a Detroit downtown with bustling corporate headquarters, little vacancy among residential properties, and new jobs created at business, medical facilities and educational institutions.
“It’s been a complete contradiction to what they have as to the image of a bankrupt city,” Francis says.
Like everyone, Francis is looking forward to seeing the restructuring plan and watching how Detroit, Michigan and corporate leaders move the city and region forward. He does, after all, have a stake in it.
While he’s confident his privatization, tax-cutting and personnel reductions have stabilized Windsor, Detroit’s situation should be a warning to all municipal leaders, he says.
“This bankruptcy, although hard on everyone, once the city government comes through, will be in a much stronger position to come around and complement what’s been done by the private sector,” Francis says. “I think most of North America will learn from the Detroit bankruptcy.”
-By WDET’s Sandra Svoboda
@WDETSandra and firstname.lastname@example.org