One year. One city. Endless opportunities.

Unfiltered: Rachele Downs on Teaching Young Women to Design a Future

Not to beat this point to death, but here goes: People are excited about the opportunities here in Detroit. You know, we're making lemonade out of this big old pile of lemons.

Let me introduce you to Rachele Downs, president of the Detroit chapter of Commercial Real Estate Women. The group is sponsoring a Thursday event for young women from Detroit Public Schools to introduce them to this industry and potential careers.

Enough out of me – let's here from my girl Rachele. Here's a highlight:

The positive legacy of being the Motor City gives us the technology, infrastructure and intellectual capital to reposition ourselves as an industry leader in several fields.  Sustainability, green technology and manufacturing, filmmaking, medical research…the possibilities are endless!

CREW Careers

By Rachele Downs

President, CREW Detroit

Who says commercial real estate in Detroit is in the tank? As the President of the Detroit chapter of Commercial Real Estate Women Detroit (CREW Detroit), I lead an organization of 140-plus members in various facets of commercial real estate who believe that this industry is actually the place to be.

In fact, we want to get more people, especially women, involved in commercial real estate, even if they've had no exposure to this rewarding career choice. That's why CREW Detroit is hosting its third annual CREW Careers event May 13 at Wayne State University. CREW Careers is an interactive, educational program designed to introduce girls of high-school age to the fundamentals of commercial real estate and career opportunities within the industry.

CREW Detroit is again partnering with the Randolph Career & Technical Education High School from the Detroit Public Schools for this year's event. The very fitting theme is “redevelopment” in downtown Detroit.

To prepare students prior to the event, four hours of instruction – focused on responsibility and goal setting – are provided by CREW Detroit members through two in-school career modules. These modules are part of the educational process leading to CREW Careers, and also help build support and understanding for the opportunities that exist for women in commercial real estate and the business world in general. One student commented after the 2009 event, “I chose to be in CREW Careers because I thought it would be a big benefit for what I want to do in life. It (the event) benefited me very well because I thought the career I wanted to be in was just for males, and CREW Detroit has shown me that women can also do what males can do.”

On May 13, an anticipated 30 young women will become “developers for the day” as they are put to the task of creating a redevelopment plan for an existing property. The young women will work in teams to design their projects with CREW members assisting as advisors. After student teams present their ideas to a panel of judges, the winning team is awarded laptop computers while other teams are awarded gift cards, thanks to the sponsorship of CREW Detroit and Key Bank, who invest their time and money to support CREW Careers. Ultimately, the students not only become professionals for a day, but gain confidence and learn teamwork, responsibility, leadership and business skills that can be applied long after CREW Careers is over.

When I think about why I get excited about CREW Careers, I often think back to 1974, going to Henry Ford Hospital with my parents. At that time, all the major hospitals were located downtown, and I distinctly remember when we drove by the Prudential Town Center, thinking that “those orange mirrored buildings must be what it's like in New York City!” I was five back then, and the 3000 building was the lone office tower along with the three-story 4000 Town Center medical building.

Fast forward 15 years, when I got my first market research job at Oliver Realty. As the leasing agent for the Town Center, Oliver Realty was the first firm in Detroit to merge with a national real estate firm, Grubb & Ellis. I was very proud to work for a national firm located in the Town Center, the premier Class A office campus in metro Detroit. The year was 1988 and the 1000 Tower was under construction.

Over the last twenty years, I have enjoyed a career more fascinating than I could have ever imagined. Every transaction is new in every way; new industries to learn about, new requirements to address, new people to meet and new problems to solve. Every transaction is its own puzzle. So many different skill sets are required in commercial real estate: networking, sales, marketing, research, financial analysis, negotiating, problem solving - and that's just in brokerage. There's also appraisal, architecture, legal, construction, engineering, environmental, property management, title; it's all there…and it's NEVER boring!

It's so exciting to think of the opportunities these young ladies have before them. CREW Detroit takes great pride in planning and executing CREW Careers to frame the potential career choices that exist for young women in commercial real estate. As someone who's passionate about the Detroit value proposition, it is heartening to know that CREW Careers has a part in inspiring the next generation of real estate professionals to think of what's possible in Detroit. I want these girls to see the potential that I see. The positive legacy of being the Motor City gives us the technology, infrastructure and intellectual capital to reposition ourselves as an industry leader in several fields.  Sustainability, green technology and manufacturing, filmmaking, medical research…the possibilities are endless!


By the way, if you are in the commercial real estate field, CREW Detroit wants to meet you. They will meet from 5:30-8 p.m. May 18 at Rosie O'Grady's in Ferndale for our annual B.A.G. (Bring a Guest/Be a Guest) membership drive.

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