After Staring Down Adversity, Detroit is Perfect Place for Amazon HQ2

Opinion

Detroit. There’s no mid-sized American city as revered, as iconic, as talked about as Detroit. That’s because no other city has symbolized America quite like it, or played a bigger role in shaping what we are as a nation. And the intertwining of Detroit with the future of America will become even clearer when it becomes the site of Amazon’s new headquarters.

In the 20th Century, the United States saw itself as a shining beacon of freedom and opportunity, the manufacturer for the world whose citizens had the opportunity to truly and historically break from poverty en masse. Detroit was the leader in realizing that vision: Detroit created both the assembly line and the first true working middle class on Earth. And when tyranny threatened in World War II, Detroit became the “arsenal of democracy,” changing the course of international events and saving the free world.

Times have changed, but Detroit’s role hasn’t. It continues to be the unchallenged leader in moving people and things from one place to another. And, with new assets like the American Center for Mobility (located at the same Willow Run site that used to manufacture the aforementioned arsenal), Mcity, and Planet M, it has become clear that Detroit’s leadership will extend to all areas of mobility going forward.

Certainly mobility is central to Amazon’s mission, but perhaps even more important is accessibility. And accessibility has been Detroit’s stock in trade for more than a century. The dream of personal transportation for everyone first became a reality in Detroit. So did the goals of free, over-the-air radio communications for the masses and broadly available home ownership. For God’s sake, Motown’s seminal “Sound of Young America,” the most accessible, recognizable music of the Baby Boomer era, was born in Detroit. The common theme among these and other triumphs is that Detroit is where big, futuristic dreams are turned into a reality that becomes available not just to a few people, but to everyone.

Ultimately, Detroit creates accessibility because it is itself relatable. A decade ago, Detroit was a city that stared down the type of adversity the rest of the U.S. is just beginning to face, and it is now the city that has architected what is becoming the greatest comeback in American history. Detroit is tough, smart, battle-tested, affordable and, best of all, the most real city around.

Finally, there are the people of Detroit. While the idea of “American Exceptionalism” has been used by folks of all stripes to support their own views, at its heart, it is a celebration of a unique culture that supports innovation and rewards all who contribute, regardless of what they look like or where they were born. Coming to America has never been an uncomplicated choice for those who made the trek, but they came because of what America stood for, and what they personally craved: Opportunity.

If anything, the well-publicized challenges that Detroit has faced in the past have created a sort of “Detroit Exceptionalism.” Those who stayed and those who have come here didn’t do it because it was easy. They did it because, even in Detroit’s toughest decade, there was the kind of incredible opportunity here that hard-working people have sought in America throughout history. They did it because they could have impact now, not after years of waiting their turn in some more glamorous spot. And they have delivered. Like Henry Ford and Berry Gordy before them, today’s Motown residents have made their impact on the world, and have made Detroit one of the fastest growing hubs for entrepreneurship, technology and the arts in America—as well as its coolest city.

For more than two decades, Amazon has shown itself to be a visionary organization and an exceptional company. Realizing its grand, universal vision will require a location for its HQ2 in an equally exceptional town filled with exceptional people. That place is Detroit.

Chris Rizik is the Chief Executive Officer and Fund Manager of the Renaissance Venture Capital Fund, a venture capital fund of funds formed by a consortium of several of Michigan’s largest corporations. Follow @ChrisRizik

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