Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg came to Detroit Friday to meet with Mayor Mike Duggan, and to offer counsel to a rapt audience of local entrepreneurs. These small-business and startup strivers were interested in whatever advice he might have to offer. But he was most animated and passionate discussing a topic that mostly didn’t apply to those in the room – immigration.
Bloomberg spoke to a group primarily comprised of winners of Motor City Match grants, the partnership between the city, economic development groups, financial institutions, foundations and corporations. They met in the meeting space at The Commons, a laundromat/coffee shop/community center on the east side, developed by 26-year-old Ezekiel Harris, executive director of MACC Development, a Motor City Match recipient.
The Detroiters asked questions, and the advice Bloomberg offered was basic: Work hard. Stay in touch with your customers. Consider micro-loans for capital. Always be learning. Stick to your core competency. And stay in “the analog world,” i.e. offer customer service that buyers can’t get online.
But when asked about Detroit’s relationship to recent immigrants, the New Yorker brightened. Showing yet another divide with the billionaire politician occupying the White House, Bloomberg came out strongly in favor of a generous open-door policy, arguing that hard-working immigrants are exactly the sort we should we welcoming.
“(The U.S.) is not a place to come if you want to put your feet up,” Bloomberg said. “If you are willing to give everything up and move here, you have the drive we want and will more than likely be successful.”
Immigrants, he continued, enrich this country’s culture, education, business environment and overall well-being. What’s more, we have a moral obligation to take in refugees, and as for those who simply want to move here, “the borders should be very open.”
The current administration in Washington is not in agreement, obviously. And the message is being heard, not just in the countries President Trump openly scorned.
“The engineers are going overseas,” he said. “When I ask business owners now who they’re most afraid of, they say, ‘Smart people in India.”
Bloomberg also praised Duggan, Dan Gilbert and others for Detroit’s comeback in recent years. He singled out Project Green Light, in which businesses pay to equip themselves with high-definition video cameras linked to the Real Time Crime Center, and display green strobe lights that indicate a safer place to stop for customers.
“It’s one of the smartest things I’ve ever heard of,” he said.
Duggan interjected from time to time, suggesting a business owner concerned about rising rents do whatever she could to buy the real estate she needed, saying values in Detroit are growing at one of the highest rates in the country.
Bloomberg, who left the New York City mayor’s office as a Republican in 2013, after three terms, mainly works on his philanthropic efforts, and has recently been dropping hints of a possible presidential run in 2020 – as a Democrat. He’s been giving generously to Democrats, injecting $20 million into a Democratic Senate super PAC just this week. But he said nothing about his political ambitions in Detroit, deferring to self-deprecation as a form of business advice.
“I always remember I’m not as smart as I think I am,” he said.
Drew Lucco, small business development manager for Motor City Match, called the event a success, even if no grand secrets were revealed by the billionaire.
It was basic advice, Lucco said, “but small business people need to hear it.”