Young entrepreneurs gravitate to places where they can become the founders of a revitalized culture; where land is cheap and available and innovation is uninhibited by a status quo. Detroit, Michigan has become one of those places. The media gives us a portrayal of a wasteland, a post apocalyptic landscape of dilapidated homes and infrastructure. But there is plenty opportunity for start-ups to redefine Detroit's future. That it why young innovators and risk-takers are needed to bring new energy and awaken new markets within the city. A recent article by Chuck Salter for Fast Company identifies six entrepreneurs who have started businesses in Detroit. They vary from grassroots campaigns to inform people of opportunities within the city to small scale enterprises that bring retail and infrastructure to the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods.
More after the break.
Detroit is one of the oldest cities in the Midwest with roots that stretch as far back as 1701. It developed into a commercial and industrial hub in the 19th century due, in part, to its proximity to the Great Lakes and a river system that connected it to many regions in the Midwest, along with a man-made canal that connected its resources to the Hudson River and the eastern coast of the United States. It thrived during the Gilded Age and well into the 20th century when it grew in prosperity thanks to the automobile industry, for which it is most known today. Detroit has grown in infamy since then as the demise of industry and rise in racial tensions reduced its population to the 700,000 people living there today, less than half of what it was at its peak. A fleeting population exacerbates a city's economic vitality, depleting it of taxpayer money that can contribute to its recuperation. This is part of what Detroit struggles with today.
Detroit is regarded as the quintessential example of the impact of a destabilized economy due to the loss of companies that were once of the engine of prosperity for its citizens. It is marked by the fall of industry and domestic manufacturing of the United States in the 21st century and is shrouded in a reputation that precedes it. But the landscape is a chief contributor to how people perceive and utilize cities. A depleted market, crime and abandoned homes that are boarded up and graffiti'd, precede the vision of Detroit.
Those that have taken the risk - from new arrivals to longtime residents have embraced a new vision for Detroit. Salter's article puts the spotlight on a few of the key players.
Jerry Paffendorf is one such transplant to Detroit, who started an art and performance station called Imagination Station in addition the tech start-up, Loveland Technologies. He has also contributed to the city with Why Don't We Own This?, a website that provide community maps and tackles land use issues in Detroit. This approach embraces community and tackles ignorance of urban issues by making the information accessible for people looking to invest in the city for personal or commercial interests.
Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans, whose company moved to Detroit a few years ago, is trying to inspire other companies to do the same. Instilling confidence in new real estate opportunities is just part of battle. The goal is to establish companies that can fuel a downtown retail area.
Andy Didorosi decided to do good for the city's failing infrastructure system by establishing a bus company that caters to young, gentrifying neighborhoods in the hopes of attracting "hipsters" to the downtown area and touring people around the hidden parts of the city. But as Salter points out, this is all heavily skewed towards a particular demographic of the city's population. As young entrepreneurs flood downtown, it leaves the established neighborhoods and struggling classes of Detroit untouched, if not marred by this progress.
Alicia George's dream was to bring a coffee shop - a functioning community gathering space - to a small part of Detroit, devoid of such amenities. Small scale ventures, such as this, may seem like a drop in the ocean but they provide meaningful land use - a haven - for a place that has high crimes rates ranging from violence, arson and theft. Community and character in the form of these projects has a wealth of possibilities for new energy.
These outside investments are the type of initiatives necessary to attract new people and give opportunities to those already settled into the city. With cheap land prices, opportunities for people without corporate backing and a resolved urban vision are boundless. Even as the city tackles its economic issues, crime and rampant foreclosures, it is steadily drawing diverse investments from outsiders and longtime residents.
Entrepreneurs with a vision are finding opportunities within a city that is looking for a spark to reignite its prosperity. With the media attention that Detroit gets today, you'd think we're all sitting on the edge of our seats, keeping our fingers crossed and looking to cities like Detroit - which has become an infamous example of the "bursting financial bubble" and its tragic economic and social effects - to show us the light at the end of the tunnel. Detroit would be proof that cities can re-surface from compounded economic crises and survive in this economy.
Via Fast Company