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Dennis Bernard: Detroit faces challenges, but is heading in the right direction

Dennis Bernard isn't shy about promoting the good things that are happening in Detroit. And today -- despite the recent bad press that the city has received -- Detroit is actually home to many positive stories, said Bernard, founder and president of Bernard Financial Group, the commercial mortgage banking firm based in Southfield, Mich.

Dennis Bernard isn't shy about promoting the good things that are happening in Detroit. And today -- despite the recent bad press that the city has received -- Detroit is actually home to many positive stories, said Bernard, founder and president of Bernard Financial Group, the commercial mortgage banking firm based in Southfield, Mich.

New development is occurring in the city's Central Business District. Employment is rising. And strong auto, high-tech and defense businesses are pumping new dollars in the entire Detroit MSA.

That's why it's frustrating to Bernard to read about Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's recent decision to appoint an emergency financial manager to oversee the city of Detroit, a city that owes $15 billion in long-term debt while facing a $327 million budget deficit.

Bernard isn't frustrated by Snyder's move. He says that Detroit's financial problems have been 40 years in the making. It's good to see steps being taken to address them.

What frustrates Bernard is that the emergency appointment overshadows the good news in Detroit.

"A lot of positive things are happening right now in the Detroit MSA," Bernard said. "Personal incomes are on the rise. Growth is taking place in the auto, high-tech and defense industries. The original equipment manufacturers in the Detroit area have given out sizable bonuses to their employees. That will filter into the retail sector and help that sector. It's too bad that the recent news is overshadowing what is going right in the Detroit MSA."

And what are some of these positive developments? Dan Gilbert, the founder and chairman of Quicken Loans, bought five downtown Detroit buildings at the end of 2012. That meant that at the end of last year, Gilbert owned 15 buildings in downtown. He also owns three parking garages and recently broken ground on a new office/retail development.

Gilbert's high-profile acquisitions have served as an immediate boost to downtown Detroit. And Bernard has experienced the impact of this with his own company. Bernard said that Bernard Financial Group is on course this year to provide about $800 million to $900 million in financing in Southeast Michigan alone. That would rival the years from 2005 through 2007 for Bernard Financial Group.

"What we are now seeing is interest from national lenders in Detroit again," Bernard said. "We are starting to see Wall Street firms and life insurance companies show interest in the city again. Part of this is because these companies can charge a higher premium by lending here. But it still gives us access to more money."

Detroit's problems are well-publicized, but Bernard said that the city's strengths don't receive as much press.

For instance, the Detroit MSA is home is to an extremely skilled and well-educated workforce. Thanks to the strong presence of the auto industry here, Detroit and its surrounding areas are home to several engineers. This has helped Detroit and its suburbs attract several high-tech and defense businesses.

"Our workforce can excel in defense work, batteries, wind and solar," Bernard siad. "We have the brain power here. We need more. You can always use more highly skilled workers. But we have a good supply of talented workers here."

Bernard, though high on the Detroit MSA, is also a realist. He understands that the city's financial problems are significant.

But he also says that the Detroit MSA is heading in the right direction.

"Yes, we have a long way to go," Bernard said. "But we have been on a steady upward climb for the last two years. We are moving the right way."