How a luxury watch and bicycle company became part of Detroit’s revitalization

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Detroit, abandoned buildings. Photo by Kristen Doerer

Photo by Kristen Doerer

Once the major manufacturing hub of the Midwest, pumping out American cars throughout the 20th century and aiding the war effort during World War II, Detroit has become known for empty factories, bankruptcy and bailouts and has been launched into the news more recently for water shutoffs and teacher sickouts.

But in recent years, a revitalization has taken place in “midtown” Detroit. Dan Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans, moved company headquarters to the city and bought up real estate throughout two square miles of downtown Detroit in an attempt to spur development. Restaurants have entered the city offering craft cocktails and tapas. Businesses, like luxury watch and bicycle company Shinola, have made Detroit their home.

In the last five years, Shinola has become, in the eyes of some, a sign of Detroit renaissance — and a manufacturing one at that.

Shinola watches. Photo by Kristen Doerer

Shinola watches on display. Photo by Kristen Doerer

Shinola watches. Photo by Kristen Doerer

Shinola watches on display. Photo by Kristen Doerer

The Making Sen$e team traveled to Detroit to see how Shinola fits into the city’s revitalization and if it could be a new a manufacturing model for the city.

“I don’t believe that we are the ones responsible for making Detroit what it is today,” Shinola president Jacques Panis told the NewsHour, adding, “we at Shinola have been a small part of this revitalization.”

Shinola has created some 400 jobs in Detroit, about 250 of which are in manufacturing, and have pulled from a growing pool of former autoworkers.

Shinola watches. Photo by Kristen Doerer

Shinola watches. Photo by Kristen Doerer

Shinola watches. Photo by Kristen Doerer

Shinola watches. Photo by Kristen Doerer

Detroit will never return to its manufacturing heyday thanks to advancement in technology, said economist Lisa Cook. But niche manufacturing outfits, like Shinola, may have a place in Detroit.

A Shinola employee in the leather manufacturing factory. Photo by Kristen Doerer

A Shinola employee in the leather manufacturing factory. Photo by Kristen Doerer

Shinola leather products Photo by Kristen Doerer

Shinola leather products Photo by Kristen Doerer

Shinola watches. Photo by Kristen Doerer

Shinola watches. Photo by Kristen Doerer

Shinola employee putting together a watch. Photo by Kristen Doerer

Shinola employee putting together a watch. Photo by Kristen Doerer

Detroit’s population has shrunk from its height of nearly 1.85 million in 1950 to under 700,000 today. Many black Detroiters continue to leave the city for the suburbs, but young, mostly white millennials have begun to move in, as they land jobs at companies like Quicken Loans and Shinola and are offered incentives to live in the city.

“But there are a lot of problems that Shinola can’t fix,” said Aaron Foley.

Detroit. Photo by Kristen Doerer

Detroit. Photo by Kristen Doerer

“We’ve got water shutoffs. We’ve got issues with our schools. We’ve got a lot of things going on — blight, abandonment, crime — which millennials aren’t so excited about once they really start digging deep in Detroit. You got to go beyond Shinola.”

Aaron Foley, author of "How To Live In Detroit Without Being A Jackass" in Clark Park, Detroit.

Aaron Foley, author of “How To Live In Detroit Without Being A Jackass” in Clark Park, Detroit.

The revitalization looks set to continue in downtown Detroit, but only time will tell whether it’ll expand to the rest of the city.

READ MORE: How Shinola turned Detroit into a luxury brand

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