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Not long before a story appeared in the Crain's Aug. 12, 1985, issue about the Downriver Community Conference, the group of communities spanning the 20-mile stretch from Detroit's southern limits to Monroe helped bring a $450 million Mazda Motor Corp. plant to Flat Rock.

Twenty years later, the organization assisted with training 1, 600 employees for a third shift at the plant when it took on production of Ford Motor Co.'s Mustang, Executive Director Jim Perry said.

The new production brought a new wave of suppliers to Downriver communities and more jobs.

The conference also successfully advocated in 2003 to get U.S. Steel Corp. to buy Great Lakes Steel operations in Ecorse and River Rouge after parent National Steel Corp., went bankrupt, Perry said. The deal preserved hundreds of jobs.

The headlines haven't been as big for Southgate-based DCC during the past decade, but the organization is still squarely focused on providing employment and training services to attract and keep jobs in southern Wayne County. It administers employment services and trade adjustment assistance from satellite offices as a MichiganWorks provider.

In fiscal 2014 ended Sept. 30, more than $6 million of the $9.7 million the DCC spent on government-funded programs went to employment and training programs.

It ended the year with nearly $9.1 million in total revenue and a reported operating loss of $573, 272 as it waited for nearly $5 million in government grants to come through. DCC covered the gap with cash and investments totaling $985, 557 for the year, according to its audited financials.

The organization now encompasses 20 Downriver communities with about 500, 000 residents, up from 16 communities and 353, 000 residents in 1985, following the addition of Romulus, Dearborn, Dearborn Heights and Huron Township.

"Our goal has always been to enhance the quality of life for area residents, workers and businesses and to shape public policy at federal, state, regional, county and local levels to assist in providing leadership in areas like employment training, weatherization and economic development, " Perry said.

While programs like its administration of the Downriver Council for the Arts and business counseling for the U.S. Small Business Administration are things of the past, DCC has continued a number of other programs.

Among them is a program that coordinates emergency response and services across its communities. Through the Downriver Mutual Aid consortium, teams of emergency responders arrived in Romulus after the 1987 plane crash at Detroit Metropolitan Airport and traveled to communities besieged by last summer's historic flooding.

The consortium's joint approach enables it to fund a SWAT team, underwater dive team and arson investigation team, Perry said. "No one community could afford all of that if it was on its own."

By having a coordinated approach and larger service area, the DCC communities are also eligible for federal and state grants they wouldn't be able to get independently, said Paula Boase, DCC program director.

In 1995, DCC began administering a brownfield redevelopment program that is providing Environmental Protection Agency funding for cleanup projects in Wayne, Lenawee, Washtenaw and Monroe counties.

Since the 1990s when the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge project began in Trenton on land donated by Chrysler Corp., DCC has administered $2.2 million in federal funding to Wayne County for cleanup efforts, Perry said.

The Wayne County and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service project encompasses the last parcels on the Detroit River that are undeveloped, Boase said. Construction of a visitor center on the site began last year, and work on a fishing pier and floating dock is expected to begin soon, she said.

Another redevelopment project the DCC funded was asbestos abatement at Dearborn's old city hall, a three-building campus that occupies an entire block. Dearborn sold the campus to Minneapolis-based Artspace Projects Inc. last year for $1.65 million. It's now being converted to artist housing and incubator, studio and gallery space.

Source: www.crainsdetroit.com
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