Dan Gilbert on Detroit

It was my pleasure to participate in the second annual Detroit Revitalization and Business conference organized by MBA students at the University of Michigan’s Ross School. (For background see Matthew Neagle’s post on the first conference.) That a group of MBA students at UM are so interested in exploring Detroit as a place to live and work after graduation that they organized a terrific two day conference is pretty amazing. Even more encouraging is the hundreds of UM students – from all schools – that attended. Believe me this level of interest in Detroit is quite new and very exciting. Quit simply, these students are the best hope for a resurgent Detroit. The more of them that decided to make Detroit home after graduation, the better the city, region and state will be.

Dan Gilbert, CEO of Quicken, was the keynote speaker. He gave, quite simply, the best speech I have heard on the importance of Detroit to the future of the region’s and state’s economy. As Gilbert described we are moving from a muscles to a brains economy. The asset that matters most in a brains-based economy is talent. Talent – particularly young talent – is mobile. And young, mobile talent is moving to vibrant central cities. As Gilbert emphasized not the suburbs of big metros, but to the central city. So a vibrant Detroit is central to the success of the metro Detroit and Michigan economy.

Gilbert talked about those themes in a recent NPR interview which you can listen and read here.

Most encouraging is Gilbert is putting his money where his mouth is. Moving his company headquarters from the suburbs to the city, buying up many Detroit office buildings to develop now (not sit on as too many are doing), helping new companies get started and then investing in them if they locate in the city. And leading the effort to develop light rail on the Woodward Corridor. Gilbert described a Woodward light rail as essential to the growth of the city and region.

The good news is Gilbert is not alone. Increasingly Detroit’s business leadership and foundations are not waiting for government (city, region or state) to make the development of Detroit as an attractive place for young talent to live and work. No more waiting for government to get it, the time for action for them is now. Between business and foundation leadership and the growing interest of young professionals to settle in Detroit the city’s future is much brighter

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