Without a Thriving Detroit, Michigan Cannot Catch that Train to Prosperity

5/19/10

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World-changing ideas will continue to flow from Ann Arbor, to be sure, but very few things will be actually made there. It takes a city of Detroit’s size, diversity, and manufacturing capacity to turn world-changing ideas into world-changing products. If Detroit continues to fail, the region will never be the economic powerhouse it once was—and people will not want to once again live, work, and raise their families here.

The People Mover is running now. My wife and I take our two young boys downtown sometimes just to ride it. They love it. Every time we take them into the city of Detroit, I am always struck by how impressed they are by the tall buildings. I don’t tell them that most of the buildings they’re marveling at are empty and decaying inside. Between college and my return to Detroit 15 years ago, I lived in the Boston area, in Manhattan, near Philadelphia, and I know what “real cities” should look like. Detroit isn’t there yet.

If the Xconomists shied away from tackling the quandary of downtown Detroit head-on, they had a wealth of ideas for the region that could be instructive for the downtown as well. Many of them are already being implemented. And some of them are direct criticisms of strategies being taken.

Susannah Malarkey, executive director of the Technology Alliance in Washington state, writes: “Here is a don’t: Don’t chase after out-of-state businesses with big tax breaks. It’s so last century and it is a big waste of time and taxpayer money. Really focus on growing your own.” This could be a direct criticism of what Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration is doing—although I would add that tax breaks are being used not only to attract out-of-state companies, but to make sure Michigan’s homegrown businesses do not leave for greener pastures.

MIT professor Robert Langer writes: “Bring more venture capital into the region.” I met many people at the recent Michigan Growth Capital Symposium who would agree—although the positive spin on that is because Michigan hosts so few deals, we appreciate what we get and really know how to give VCs their money’s worth when they do invest.

Deborah Dunsire, president and CEO of Millenium, the Takeda Oncology Company in Boston, writes: “By developing partnerships with universities like University of Michigan and Wayne State University, local entrepreneurs can access new ideas and support incubator companies coming out of these … Next Page »

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  • Kashif

    As much as I agree with your writing here, the unfortunate reality is that unless and until attitudes change, things are not going to change in Detroit. The race riots of 1967 left an indelible mark on the psyche of people who live and work in the region so that those who at one time lived and worked in Detroit moved out to greener and “safer” pastures in the suburbs while those who remained behind simply played up divisions of race/class to advance their own narrow political self interest (re-election). This has gone on unabated for nearly 40 years or so (with only momentary interruption during the Dennis Archer administration).

    One cursory glance at the prior Mayor, City Council, School board, and police of Detroit over the past 7-8 years fills in the picture. Look also, at the denialism and deflection at the recent Chris Hansen NBC Dateline story.

    Look also at any of the candidates for Governor and you see the exact same attitudes among those running on the (presumed winning) side of the Republican aisle.

    Not sure what if anything can be done about that.

  • http://www.reframedetroit.com Michael Beaton

    We at reframe Detroit agree Kashif that the basis for a revived Detroit requires dramatically different values, attitudes, and beliefs. We need Detroiters that respect life and property. We need Detroiters that value life-long learning. We need a culture that is sustainable and welcoming of others over the long-term. The brutal reality of the situation is that current social environment of Detroit is toxic and dangerous. Seemingly, every day this month, we have been besieged with headlines of violence. To stop this downward path, change in Detroit has to come from within; within each individual, within each street, within each community. We at reframe Detroit are about to embark on a long-term plan to change Detroit’s core values and hopefully, restore a sense of community. reframe Detroit will launch a series of marketing campaigns challenging Detroiters to choose their path, for its their choice that determines their life, their family’s future, and their community’s ultimate destination. We know the challenge is immense; but, frankly, we believe our way will result in change for the better.