Detroit, once a thriving industrial metropolis, has seen its fortunes fall with the near-collapse of the auto industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Michigan has the highest unemployment rate in the country at 14.1 percent, and the Detroit area has an even higher rate at 15.3 percent.
But there are various efforts to turn the Motor City around. A prime example is TechTown, a hybrid office-laboratory that was launched at Wayne State University to help local entrepreneurs craft business plans and secure startup funds. TechTown which calls itself an incubator for small businesses, is appropriately situated in a former GM building, with plans to expand into a Cadillac showroom. As of today, 210 companies are headquartered at TechTown in the form of rented cubicles, lab spaces and mailboxes. Some TechTown businesses include stem-cell research centers, software developers combating Internet addiction, and on the more unusual side, manufacturers of disposable underwear. TechTown plans to help 400 more companies – many of them in the high-tech and alternative energy sectors – get off the ground in the next three years.
Like many new efforts in Detroit, TechTown is funded by generous foundation grants. Philanthropic organizations have been proactive in the urban renewal efforts that are sprouting up all over the city. According to an article in the Detroit News, these foundations have also engendered some resentment among locals who worry about the growing concentration of power in these deep-pocketed organizations.
“They seem to be thinking that they know better than the community what is best for our children and what is best for our families,” Detroit community activist Helen Moore said in the article.
The verdict is still out on whether TechTown and other like-minded efforts will be successful in their efforts to reverse the city’s dwindling fortunes. Will these small-business incubators spur an economic renaissance in Detroit? We’ll be watching and writing about it here.