Last weekend, the New York Times featured a story in its Style section about the onslaught of hip, young urban pioneers streaming into downtown Detroit. These “creatives,” as they are being called, are taking advantage of low rents and the opportunity to recycle this abandoned, blank slate of an urban landscape into something new and exciting. There are restaurateurs and entrepreneurs of all stripes living alongside environmentalists and urban farmers. The city, according to the Times, seems like “a giant candy store for young college graduates wanting to be their own bosses.” One woman said that there’s a cool party just about every evening. The article pointed out that even though recent census figures show that Detroit’s overall population shrank by 25 percent in the last 10 years, downtown Detroit experienced a 59 percent increase in the number of college-educated residents under the age of 35.
No doubt this is partly a word-of-mouth, grass-roots “movement.” But behind the scene, millions of public, private and foundation dollars are greasing the wheels. Last April, Blueprint America profiled an effort called Live Midtown, an incentive program created to lure some of the 30,000 employees of midtown’s major anchor institutions (Wayne State University, Detroit Medical Center and Henry Ford Health System) to move from the suburbs back into the city. By the end of June, 178 people were reported to have taken advantage of deep discounts on rent ($2,500 the first year and $1,000 the second) or purchases ($20,000 toward the purchase of their primary residence). We also looked at an effort by the mayor’s office to use federal stimulus money to lure members of Detroit’s police force out of the ’burbs and back into town.
And more incentives are on the way. Dan Gilbert, the founder and chairman of Quicken Loans, for instance, is one of the city’s biggest boosters. He calls his revitalization effort “Detroit 2.0” and seems to be putting his money (more than $100 million by some estimates) where his mouth is. Gilbert recently moved Quicken Loans’ headquarters (and the 2,000 employees who worked there) out of a nearby suburb into downtown Detroit. And he’s in the process of buying four historic buildings which he plans to fill with tech and web-based companies, some of which will no doubt come from Bizdom U, an “entrepreneurial boot camp” Gilbert started several years ago. Biz U offers graduates financing opportunities of up to $100,000 if they base their start-up in Detroit.
And it’s not just the style writers who are paying attention to Detroit’s new entrepreneurial class. Just three years ago, Forbes placed Detroit on top of its list of America’s Most Miserable Cities. But in a stunning turnaround, this month Forbes put Detroit on the cover as one of the Best Places for Doing Business, calling it “a land of opportunity.”