Start-up City, USA

Detroit isn’t a blank canvas. Instead, it’s a complex scene that has everything an entrepreneur needs to start his dream company, Josh Linkner writes.

Image

INSIDE/OUTSIDE: A project by The Detroit Institute of Arts that takes its collection to the streets as part of a celebration of its 125th anniversary.

“Detroit is a blank canvas.”

I cringe every time I hear this phrase, even though it’s used by people who mean well.

To say something that references “emptiness” regarding a city founded in 1701 is both unfair and inaccurate, as it implies that there’s nothing here—or worse—that there’s nothing worth talking about here.

By suggesting this, the speaker disregards momentum building around the Detroit 2.0 movement, which is in full swing. Dan Gilbert, my partner in Detroit Venture Partners, has purchased nearly three million square feet of commercial real estate, setting off a trigger reaction for private investment downtown, where sports, business, technology, and the arts converge. Over the next few years, we’ll witness the positive effects of our city’s revitalization from within, as fallout from this tipping point of innovation.

Rather than refer to Detroit as a blank canvas, perhaps it makes more sense to call it an unfinished one. There are already splatters of paint on the board demonstrating promise, as well as blunders that need to be fixed. However, there is still enough white space left for someone to come in and make a mark, which will leave a lasting impression on the painting. People innovating and using creativity to win are making some of the most impactful brush strokes; the end result is a more beautiful painting for us all to enjoy.

Entrepreneurship requires you to get in the trenches. It’s true that Detroit’s trenches are more war-torn than others you might find. That being said, there’s a strong case to be made for starting a business here, stemming precisely from these long-standing challenges and problems. The following elements are like buckets of paint, a toolkit of brushes, or even a paint-by-number guide: they make it easier for someone to add to the canvas.

Talent: This area is chock full of people who are hungry for an opportunity. New graduates make up the first camp—those born and bred in the region are educated in a local network of world-class universities, leaving ready to enter the business world. The current market has forced many of these graduates to launch their careers elsewhere, causing a “brain drain,” but this trend can be stopped by providing jobs locally. Unfortunately for the economy, there’s a large group of professionals who are out of work. Engineers, laborers, techies, sales associates, managers, consultants and a whole host of others now need jobs, many of whom have years of business experience under their belt. For a savvy business owner, this second group provides a capable workforce. Why pay more to fight over average talent when you could have your choice of hirable, less expensive A-listers?

Space: With more than 130 square miles and too many vacancies to count within its borders, Detroit boasts land. Lots of it. No other major city would have empty skyscrapers available for purchase, let alone for pennies on the square foot. Similarly, no other major city would have vacant lots, begging for parks, gardens and public art pieces, let alone with herds of new downtown residents awaiting them. Just as a brush needs a painter to bring it into action, so too does this land require someone to make use of it.

“Small” Town: Although Detroit is one of the largest American cities, it retains an attitude of a “big city, small town.” When someone starts a business in New York or Los Angeles, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. Here, new businesses stand out and we take notice, welcoming newbies with open arms and celebrating their entrepreneurial fire. Because of this, it’s often easier to get face time with head honchos here than it would be elsewhere, which makes your business’s goals more quickly attainable.

Something Bigger: It’s rare to be in the right place at the right time, but when you are, the sparks just seem to ignite out of thin air. At this moment, Detroit seems to be “right,” as it’s experiencing a truly fresh start through revitalization. It’s not just an up-and-coming downtown center that’s drawing talent; it’s the chance to help change the landscape of a region that is in dire need of it and the opportunity to make a long-lasting impact. Being a part of something bigger than oneself is special and adds another layer of importance to anything your company does. Instill a sense of purpose—and pride—in your employees by being a part of something meaningful. Put passion first, and dollars will follow.

Yes, Detroit is in a sense wide open, awaiting those who want to take advantage of opportunities for growth. Yes, the city has much room for improvement in a variety of areas, many of which have long been ignored. No, that doesn’t mean it’s a blank canvas, and it definitely doesn’t mean we should refer to it as such. Instead, we need to realize we have the once-in-a-lifetime chance to make a noticeable brushstroke on a canvas whose final version affects us all. Let’s seize it.

Josh Linkner is a five-time entrepreneur, venture capitalist, professor, and New York Times best-selling author of Disciplined Dreaming—A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity.  You can read more at JoshLinkner.com. @JoshLinkner

http://www.inc.com/hot-spots-detroit/josh-linkner/detroit-is-start-up-city-usa.html

Advertisements

Retooling the Manufacturing Community through Technology

This article was sent to me by a fellow student, and I feel it explains exactly how I hope this project will aid in recovering the economy of Detroit, and ultimately revive the city into a new digitally driven manufacturing hub.

In the article Bruce Katz states “Economy shaping is going to require a new kind of placemaking.  Placemaking has been focused around quality places and liveable places, which is very important to attract and retain talented workers.  But the urban planning field has been too narrowly focused on placemaking.”

The goal of my project is not to create some new great place for people to come and go as they please. The project is designed to engage people in a fundamentally different way. It is going to draw them in not through the beauty of the architecture, but through the substance it provides. The innovation, the creativity, the aura are the essential elements that keep people coming back. The idea is not to create a place that is flashy and is the talk of the town for a couple of years until the next big thing comes along. The idea is to create something that truly progresses the norm. Something that transcends current comprehension and opens up new doors that no one knows exists.

For this reason, the project is located in building that currently exist, buildings that have been neglected for thirty years.  The project adapts these building to create spaces and architecture that does more than provide a place for people to come.  It provides a place for people to learn, to collaborate, to adapt and to transcend themselves into new discoveries.

The future of Detroit does not lie in new casinos or sporting complexes.  The future of Detroit lies within its people and their ability to adapt to the ever changing world.  The future of Detroit lies within its economy and its ability to adapt to new technologies and industries.  The future of Detroit lies within its people to create something truly transcending.

Bruce Katz: Better Economic Structure Will Save the City

Image

“Monument to Joe Louis,” Detroit’s iconic sculpture. Photo: Dogs New Clothes/Flickr

Bruce Katz sees the future of our cities a little differently than his fellow urbanists.

Katz, the founding director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, believes optimizing economic structure, not urban form, is the key to revitalizing depressed cities and strengthening thriving ones. It’s a departure from the thinking of many colleagues, who believe revitalization based on pretty buildings and the service sector will attract business.

The way Katz sees it, cities have gotten their forms down pretty well. Most of them have done a good job optimizing density, emphasizing greenspace and generally making things more attractive. But economic development has too often focused on what Katz calls “Starbucks and stadia.”

There is a legitimate case for service-sector communities, he argues, but it is far wiser to embrace tech, manufacturing and exports. This would bring more shared and sustainable growth as cities shift from consumption- and service-reliant economies toward economies built on innovation and production.

Wired.com: You’re suggesting cities take a fundamentally different approach to urban development than has been the norm. Who’s actually doing it?

Bruce Katz: New York. If you look at New York right now, what Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg focused on for the last decade was building stadiums for use in the Olympics. That has changed to focus on the applied sciences and attract Cornell [University] and other institutions to build and diversify New York’s economy from the service and financial sectors of the economy.

Wired.com: What other cities are embracing this model?

Katz: In other cities and regions, such as northeast Ohio, they are focused on retooling the industrial sector for the green economy because they are a powerhouse for manufacturing. This builds on their history, including the automotive industry. Seattle has the potential to be a hub of big, clean information technology due to the firms already in the region, such as Microsoft.

Wired.com: Has the recession played a role in this?

Katz: Since the recession cities are now moving away from the service and real estate sectors and starting to look toward the tradable economy for sustained growth. These are the wealth-generating sectors that drive everything else. Without them you do not have a functioning retail or housing sector. We are trying to work with cities on identifying their strengths and how they focus on moving their economies toward this model of development.

Wired.com: During the last 30 years cities have focused on creating places and on the urban form. Is what you’re suggesting so different an approach?

Katz: Yes, but urban form is critical to this. Economy shaping is going require a new kind of placemaking. Placemaking has been focused around quality places and liveable places, which is very important to attract and retain talented workers. But the urban planning field has been too narrowly focused on placemaking.

Wired.com: Meaning?

Katz: You can’t just focus on housing and transit in the core of a city, you need to focus on the physical needs of manufacturing, development and the needs that go along with them. That will clearly have a huge effect not only on the city but regional level.

Wired.com: How so?

Katz: On the city level, it will create what we call innovation districts. If you take the major research institutions and tech clusters that are being created, how do you take them and arrange them in a purposeful way with mixed use housing and amenities that attract talent but work for industry? Boston is doing this and Barcelona is clearly doing this. San Francisco and Detroit are doing this also. These cities are creating places that let all of these sectors work in a derivative way and form starting at the economic level. By doing this the form follows these sectors that drive wealth.

Wired.com: San Francisco and Detroit are two vastly different cities in two different regions, culturally and economically, especially with regard to tech…

Katz: I am actually very bullish on Detroit. If you look at the Woodward corridor downtown to midtown, what you see is the growth of some tech-oriented industries with Quicken Loans and Compuware and Henry Ford Medical and Wayne State. What you have are some major institutions being the platform of both residential growth, which is happening, but also the growth of business incubators. I think the core of Detroit, with focused public and private sector investment, could be very different. You also have the added bonus of seeing Canada from Detroit. Having our largest trading partner bordering the city is a big advantage, and one that hasn’t been exploited. The growth from that in the way that we see in Europe across national lines could really change how Detroit grows in the future.

Wired.com: Not to dwell on Detroit, but do you think it could be the next tech city?

Katz: Detroit has the possibility to do that, yes. Detroit also has some real problems that need to be addressed, but with what is going on there the entire core could be an innovation district.

Wired.com: What needs to happen for cities like Detroit to rebound?

Katz: The cities that will flourish are the ones that are on the vanguard of policy. Historically, New York and Chicago have the ability to adapt and flourish because large cities are essentially co-governed. Private capital and institutions work with city governments to create physical forms and policies that perpetuate this type of growth.

Wired.com: But can Detroit become Silicon Valley?

Katz:The tech we should focus on is not just Facebook tech or Google tech but rather manufacturing tech, green tech. If we don’t focus on this we will see ourselves in 50 years having lost our economic advantage and loose our place in the world. This is well within our grasp. We have the ability to be the leaders if we just focus our attention. This is not just about advanced telecommunications. That it is part of it. But most of our new patents come form manufacturing. We need to stay on the forefront of this.

Wired.com: You’ve mentioned things like public investment, smarter policy and the need for more government involvement. Given the current political climate, is this possible? Can we even have the discussion?

Katz: If you really want smart cities, you do not want government to get of the way, you want it to get into the game. You can really integrate technology across places and spaces throughout cities if the government is working with the tech sector to make it happen. It takes local political leaders and private capital to make it happen. The federal government is very disconnected from this. The cities are the engines of the economy. It is not Ben Bernanke who will do this, but cities supporting their key industries.

http://www.wired.com/autopia/2012/02/bruce-katz/

DESIGN INTENTIONS

What if Detroit were to become the next Silicon Valley? What if Detroit were to use its history in the automobile industry to be at the forefront of technological advancements? According to Edward Glaesner, the most important aspect for the future of manufacturing cities is the education of its people. The future for Detroit is to educate its people to provide the future to the world. Although so many things are manufactured oversees, so much is dreamed up in countries like the United States. Silicon Valley is vital to the success of the manufacturing processes oversees. San Jose provides the product that the world depends on it. Without the creativity, without the knowhow, without the perseverance, there may not be an Apple, or Intel, or Microsoft. It all starts here. What if the automobile industry started in Detroit?

The U.S. cannot compete in the assembly process of everyday manufacturing anymore. It is just too cheap in Asia. Why fight it? Move to something that no one else can provide. Train the people to do the job that makes all the other jobs. The chip fabrication (Fab) process is like an electronic assembly plant. This manufacturing process is used to create the integrated circuits that are present in everyday electrical and electronic devices. It is a multiple-step sequence of photolithographic and chemical processing steps during which electronic circuits are gradually created on a wafer made or pure semiconducting material. The facilities that house this process are called “fabs.” The fab provides a wide range of jobs, from high level engineers, to business people and testing and laboratory personnel.

The best example of a city like San Jose is Austin. Austin, known as Silicon Hills, provides a similar service to the world as San Jose, chip design and manufacturing. It provides much of the brain power and invention that technological companies need in order to produce product. If new product is not designed in San Jose, more than likely it was in Austin. A prime example of the work Austin has put into its vision came true in 2006, when Samsung opened a Fab in Austin. This is significant because this is only the second one they had opened. This gave jobs to Americans with a company founded in Korea. It is a wide range of jobs, from high level engineers, to business people and testing and laboratory personnel.

Detroit could become a fab for the automobile industries. Cars are becoming more electronic every day. Muscle cars are being replaced with hybrid. Cars that look like muscle cars, such as the Tesla, have a speaker system installed to make them sound like a muscle car instead of a Prius. Can you imagine seeing a Camero or Mustang driving down the road, but you couldn’t hear it? If the future is flying cars, doesn’t that mean more electronic parts? Sounds like the future is revving up in Detroit.

In order for Detroit to progress into the twenty-first century and garner some of the luster it once had, it will need to transcend its current analog environment and move into the digital age. This will require a complete transformation of the city and the fabric that has made it such a manufacturing genius. The infusion of digital technology into all aspects of the city culture, education, economy and lifestyle is the only way to keep up with the ever-changing world and reverse the effects of the recent economic crash in the United States.

This project will concentrate on the digital transcendence of the City of Detroit, particularly within the manufacturing community. The infusion of technology can occur at many different scales and this project will involve stitching the macro(world) to the micro(individual). Within each scale, there will be investigations and research into how Detroit can be digitally infused to once again compete in the global market. The transformations will center around technology and digital strategies that can help transition the analog manufacturing techniques used in within the city.

In order for Detroit to progress into the twenty-first century and garner some of the luster it once had, it will need to transcend its current analog environment and move into the digital age. This will require a complete transformation of the city and the fabric that has made it such a manufacturing genius. The infusion of digital technology into all aspects of the city culture, education, economy and lifestyle is the only way to keep up with the ever-changing world and reverse the effects of the recent economic crash in the United States.

This project will concentrate on the digital transcendence of the City of Detroit, particularly within the manufacturing community. The infusion of technology can occur at many different scales and this project will involve stitching the macro(world) to the micro(individual). Within each scale, there will be investigations and research into how Detroit can be digitally infused to once again compete in the global market. The transformations will center around technology and digital strategies that can help transition the analog manufacturing techniques used in within the city.

Stitching is the art of joining, mending, or fastening with or as if with stitches. In the case of this project, the digital technology is the thread that will stitch each one of these elements together. As in sewing, each stitch is critical to the overall success of the material being created. In order for Detroit to transcend into the digital age of manufacturing, each of these elements will have to work together seamlessly.

There are well known manufacturing cities all over the world. Each of these cities has seen its ups and downs over the last century. It is their ability to adapt to the changing world and market that allows them to maintain an edge in the global manufacturing sector.

China has been the biggest mover over the last couple of decades. This is well documented in the film Manufactured Landscapes, which illustrates through photography the effects manufacturing is having on the environment and people of China. Although the Chinese are at the front of the line at the moment, they will need to adapt over time to stay in this position.

Detroit needs to adapt its role in the global market. A digital infusion and diversification of manufacturing processes that interconnects to the world market will reposition the city in a different but familiar role in the future.

The “Rust Belt” bolsters the once king of manufacturing economies in the world. This region alone accounted for a large portion of the world’s manufacturing. Many of the cities in this region have already experienced transformations due to shifts in manufacturing needs. Pittsburgh and Chicago saw this happen in the 1950’s with steel manufacturing. At this moment, other cities like Cleveland and Buffalo are experiencing similar misfortunes as Detroit.

These cities are stitched together by more than just highways and infrastructure. They share many of the same waterways and rail lines as well as a similar demographic full of blue collar workers. Most importantly, they all have experienced moments of decline and can provide examples of successful strategies.

All these cities need each other, and it is when they are working together that they can be at their highest potential.

The City of Detroit has long relied on the manufacturing located throughout the city.  There are many different types of manufacturing that occur in and around the city, but its strongest sector has been automobiles.  Although many other companies and countries have come into the business over the years, the rich history lies within the walls of the automobile plants in Detroit.

Due to the economic collapse in the United States, many of the automobile manufacturers in the city have struggled or ceased to exist.  This fracturing has had a ripple effect on many of the other manufacturing processes located throughout the city.

The goal is to stitch the fractured city back together, and in order to do this each industry must be connected to make a stronger product.  They must be consolidated and woven into the fabric of the city, shrinking the overall footprint and bringing everyone closer together.

At the heart of the manufacturing process is the people that make everything happen.  Detroit has long relied on the blue collar workers that fill its buildings with movement and activity every day.

Edward Glaeser says in his book Triumph of the City, “To thrive, cities must attract smart people and enable them to work collaboratively.”  He argues that some old industrial cities like Detroit are dying because they fail to educate their population to reinvent the role of manufacturing in the city.  Boston has been able to do this several times, and thus has rebounded nicely from similar plights as the one Detroit is experiencing at the moment.