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On this day in 1994: President Clinton hosts world leaders at Detroit jobs summit

By: - March 14, 2023 3:06 am

Former Presidents Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush at the NAFTA kickoff, 1993 | Wikimedia Commons

On March 14, 1994, President Bill Clinton hosted leaders of the world’s industrial nations at Detroit’s Fox Theatre. There, they met about job creation in a sluggish economy.  

Called the “Group of 7” or commonly known as G7, was a set of meetings included Great Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan and the United States. 

President Bill Clinton in Detroit in 1994 | Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

Clinton, a Democrat, had been elected in 1992, due to, in part, an economic recession in the 1990s and politically hurt his opponent, GOP President George H.W. Bush. The national unemployment rate peaked at 7.8% in June 1992. Detroit’s unemployment rate was near 12% in late 1993, according to Detroit Free Press reporting. 

While in Detroit, Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer jogged on Belle Isle, the city’s 983-acre island park. Clinton also visited Focus: HOPE, a nonprofit job training center in Detroit. He praised the site that was located in a renovated Ford Motor Co. engine plant but pointed out that areas of the city have faced considerable economic challenges.

“Here we are in an inner-city neighborhood, with building after building and plants that have closed down, which could have become a symbol for the loss of hope,” Clinton said at the time.

Nearly 200 foreign officials and more than 500 reporters from the U.S. media representatives attended the conference. So did Gov. John Engler and former Gov. Jim Blanchard, who was then U.S. ambassador to Canada.

“There was general agreement that economic recovery would not be enough to alleviate the jobs crisis, which is expected to see 35 million people out of work by the end of the year in the 24 countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,” according to a March 1994 New York Times analysis

Meanwhile, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was enacted in 1994. It created a free trade zone for Mexico, Canada and the United States and was supported and signed by Clinton. However, the Washington, D.C.-based, left-leaning Economic Policy Institute stated NAFTA during the first 10 years of its existence had caused the “displacement of production” that involved 879,280 U.S. jobs.

“Most of those lost jobs were high-wage positions in manufacturing industries,” the report read. 

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit.