At Xconomy Detroit, A New Narrative Begins In A City That Is Always Striving

4/20/10

Welcome to Xconomy Detroit, a continuing chronicle of what this city is “becoming.”

The word “Detroit” has always been immersed in meaning far beyond the physical borders of this great and tragic city. At one time, there was no need to define what one meant by the phrase “coming out of Detroit.” It was synonymous with the very best of American ingenuity and progress. Time passes, and the D-word is almost an epithet.

Here’s what I think: “Detroit” is a verb.

It is constantly in the process of doing, of becoming, of moving from one state of being to another. This is true despite what you may hear or read about Detroit’s historic complacency as a one-industry town.

I have lived in Michigan most of my life. I know that Detroit is always seeking to become—even within the confines of its now-maligned “one industry.” There is a great deal of “becoming” contained within the knowledge, talent, creativity, and sheer willpower of the late, great automotive industry.

Even back in the mid-’80s, when I went to school at Wayne State University in Detroit, there was talk of renaissance, a common buzzword in Detroit. But it has taken just about my entire adult life for me to actually see the seeds of true renaissance.

TechTownA few weeks ago, I went back to my old Wayne State campus—where my father before me attended, as well—and was impressed by the bustle over at TechTown, a business incubator that has seen unbelievable growth just in the past year. I saw young go-go business types walking with bookish-looking scientists as they toured their new digs together. With 160 tenants, TechTown is full. TechTown Two is just being launched inside, appropriately enough, a shut-down old Cadillac dealership.

There is a hunger here. It comes out of necessity, certainly, as many talented people find themselves out of work, forced to become instant entrepreneurs. Hobbies become livelihoods. Long-held ideas are taken out of drawers and, thanks to incubators like TechTown, have a chance to breathe.

But TechTown is only the beginning of a new narrative for Detroit. And when I say “Detroit,” I am also talking about Northern Ohio and Southeastern Michigan, including Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan, which is placing more emphasis these days on spinning out companies and partnering with industry. University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman has a variation on an old academic mantra. At U-M, it’s “partner or perish” as the university aggressively pursues business relationships to turn academic ideas into business realities.

Lawrence Molnar, director of U-M’s Economic Development Administration University Center, recently told a congressional panel that universities are playing a key role in turning local economies around.

It is pretty to say, this idea of a turnaround, but it is hard to convey just how enormous the task is. Michigan lost about 80,000 manufacturing jobs just in the last year alone. Unemployment is the highest … Next Page »

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  • http://www.odonnellimc.com Kelly O’Donnell

    We’re happy to have you here! There’s a wealth of great stories waiting to be told here in Michigan, and we’re thrilled Xconomy will be here to tell them!