Looking back on 2011, there is no doubt that Detroit faces more than its fair share of huge challenges: looming municipal insolvency, failing schools, poverty, and crippling cuts to the city and region’s bus services that were only compounded by the recent decision to pull the plug on light rail.
But it’s not all doom and gloom in the Motor City. There were a number of green shoots that emerged that give hope for 2012:
- Entrepreneurialism is on the rise. In an era of downsizing and lack of job security, Detroit is emerging as something of a hotspot for startups and incubators like TechTown, Green Garage and Bizdom U. It will certainly be fun to watch this trend and see which business ideas take off.
- Dan Gilbert’s vision for a “Webward” Avenue. The deep-pocketed Quicken Loans founder has been snapping up whole buildings in downtown Detroit with the vision of filling them with technology startups funded through his venture capital firm, retailers and employees from Quicken and other companies he owns who are being relocated from the suburbs. “What we’re trying to do is build some serious positive momentum, where we can move more and more companies,” Gilbert was quoted as saying recently by The Detroit News. “It’s hard to do when you don’t have control of real estate. When you do, you can control the deal.”
- Corporate relocations and expansions in Detroit. Both Quicken and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan are moving thousands of employees downtown from the suburbs, and Strategic Staffing Solutions and GalaxE. Solutions have been adding highly educated IT workers to the ranks of people who work downtown. There’s already been a marked difference in the amount of foot traffic on the city streets, and there are signs that restaurants and retailers are following suit.
- The Live Downtown and Live Midtown initiatives. Major Detroit-based employers are offering cash incentives to employees to buy, rent or fix up homes in the city in an effort to build a critical mass of residents and boost the 24-hour viability of key neighborhoods. Early results — led by Live Midtown, which had to stop accepting applications — suggest the programs have been successful.
- Midtown development is hot. While the 2010 Census data showed it lost population during the preceding decade, Midtown is rapidly turning into Detroit’s premier zip code, with more than $2 billion invested since the turn of the century and counting. New owners are expanding the Detroit Medical Center, Whole Foods plans to open in 2013, residential space is already at a premium, and a major new mixed-use development is taking shape that will add considerably to the neighborhood’s urban feel.
- So is Corktown. It’s really a shame that much of Detroit’s oldest surviving neighborhood was leveled during the urban renewal push of the mid-20th century, because it’s filled with charming Victorian homes, Federal rowhouses and the famous Slows Bar B Q. Lately, it’s been abuzz with new businesses opening or about to open their doors: Astro Coffee, Sugar House, the Detroit Institute of Bagels and the Mercury Burger Bar, among other interesting developments.
I’m sure there are many more examples. What did I miss?
Photo by Sean Davis