Five Ways to Jump-Start the Reinvention of Detroit

5/6/10

[Editor's Note: Lux Capital's Josh Wolfe and Shahin Farschi also contributed to this post.]

In terms of the difficulty of the turnaround needed, it’s telling that Detroit derives from the French word for strait—a narrow passageway—symbolic of the chances Detroit really has for re-invention. It will take radical action, hugely energetic leaders, and messianic spokespeople to bang the drum for renewal and galvanize a depressed populace to squeeze through against the pressures of obsolescence.

Our ideas for the Motor City:

—Use the excess auto manufacturing capacity to build batteries, electric motors, renewable power and wind power chassis systems, which of course has been a theme of Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration.

—Lure software engineers from Washington and California to build better mobile apps and services—the Ford-marketed SYNC is a start—but leaves much to be desired.

—Create a for-profit expert consulting hub modeled on the Gerson Lehrman Group that can be used to employ a core of displaced, highly skilled design, CAD, automation engineers to serve clients in other regions.

—Bulldoze Hamtramck, except for the big warehouses; turn them into “exploratoriums.

—Make local government officials spend at least a year traveling around the world—so they don’t think the universe has been modeled after Michigan.

Editor’s note: To help launch Xconomy Detroit, we’ve queried our network of Xconomists and other innovation leaders around the country for their list of the most important things that entrepreneurs and innovators in Michigan can do to reinvigorate their regional economy.

Larry Bock, a biotech entrepreneur and San Diego venture investor, is the founder and organizer of the USA Science & Engineering Festival, set for Washington DC in April 2012. Follow @

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  • Jered

    I’m from the Detroit area originally (Boston now) and would love to see a revivial there, but I haven’t a clue how to do it. I look forward to hearing more from Xconomy in this vein.

    I love the idea of using the manufacturing capacity to serve green energy needs, but is this realistic? There’s still a huge market for cars, but Detroit has become uncompetitive due to bad corporate management and sweetheart deals with auto union employees. Who’s going to staff these wind turbine plants if they don’t guarantee employment for life, pay based solely on seniority, and 100% health care coverage for life?

    Bad employment deals are what have driven manufacturing business from Detroit, not building the wrong things. The unions are no longer protecting employees from predatory bosses and 80 hour work weeks — they’re preventing manufacturing from surviving, and they’ll resist to the death any attempt to kick them out. If you have a scab factory start operating at nationally competitive pay, it’ll burn down within a month, I guarantee it.

  • BT Irwin

    “Bulldoze Hamtramck”? It’s only one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse (and vibrant) parts of the city–a real selling point to the outside world. If immigration is the key to infusing new life into an economy, why would we demolish Detroit’s strongest immigrant enclave?