Detroit: The Next Frontier

Sitting in a glassed-in event space in downtown Detroit, I have a beautiful view of the Detroit River and the riverfront stretch of Windsor, Ontario. Look left and see the Joe Louis fist prominently featured in almost every Detroit montage. What do you mean you don’t remember the title sequence of HBO’s Hung? Looking right at Hart Plaza and the Detroit Riverwalk. I have one question on my mind — can we really land Amazon?

In case you missed it, Amazon announced plans for a second corporate headquarters “equivalent” to the company’s Seattle presence. What happened next is the economic development version of Cannonball Run. Cities from coast to coast and everywhere in between, including some Canadian cities, announced intentions to bid for Amazon. It’s on. I mean, Gary, Indiana & Halifax, Nova Scotia are getting involved. Phoenix sent a cactus (Amazon sent it back). Birmingham, Alabama made prop Amazon packages the size of train cars and placed them all over the city.

Detroit doesn’t have to do that. Detroit is different.

I did not understand that until I spent time in the city. You have to be here to experience it. I know it may seem like I’m making it up, but I’m writing to tell you, it’s true. Walk down the street and you’ll see a Detroit t-shirt before you reach the first corner. Not a Tigers shirt or a Red Wings shirt. Just The D. It would be as if everyone in Manhattan wore I-heart-NY or Empire State of Mind t-shirts. In the D, it’s different.

Detroit vs. Everybody.

Detroit Is The New Black.

Detroit Hustles Harder.

Detroit is the guy at the concert wearing the tour t-shirt … and totally pulling it off. In fact, it’s not just ok. It’s expected. My best friend moved to Detroit in 2005 and, on my first visit, he bought me a fitted Tigers hat. I’m a Red Sox fan. But it wasn’t about baseball. It was about the city. The D.

So what turned that loyalty into actual economic development?

The answer is simple: A culture of winning. When Dan Gilbert released Detroit’s teaser trailer for the Amazon bid, it was accompanied with the comment “momentum breeds momentum.” The city is just starting to win again. Turning a pessimistic attitude into a hopeful one. From where I sit, which admittedly is in Quicken Loans’ offices, I can see a sustained, continued investment in Detroit.

Detroit is the most American story there is. Americans once went West in search of freedom and then again for gold. We went to the Moon to prove we could. Some people say we should be looking for the next frontier, the next Wild West. I already found it in Detroit. Our growth is digital and autonomous and exponential. I know what you’re thinking. Silicon Valley is the modern gold rush. Not unless you have tech stock to finance your two bedroom condo. And not if you are a true explorer. Instead of rebuilding after a fire like Chicago or tearing down and rebuilding each generation like New York City, Detroit is layered with complexity. A mix of old & new, city & suburb, white & black, resident & transplant, American & international. Risk & reward. Yes, the city has serious problems that require resources and attention. Housing priced for all residents. Ensuring the revitalization reaches all our neighborhoods. Employment opportunities across the city. Securing a quality education for all our children. America’s story.

That’s why this is perfect timing for Amazon to move here. Amazon’s selection of Detroit would be an initial and immediate proof of concept. Amazon would confirm for the world what Detroiters already know — Detroit is just getting started. We are offering Amazon the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the Next Belt. The Rust Belt or the faux-compassionate “former Rust Belt” is a relic of out-of-town reporters, usually a Boomer or Gen Xer. The reality is that the rust belt has not been the story for a long time. Detroit is what’s next. #NextBelt.

Detroit is the heart of the Next Belt.

Detroit has the fastest growing segment of tech workers with 72% growth in the last five years. The region has 12% job growth overall in the same period. That’s before including our world class hospitals & universities. Big Ten football is not going to lure Amazon, but our proximity to the University of Michigan, Michigan State and Waterloo (Ontario, Canada) along with Waterloo’s 200,000 software engineers, just might.

In the end, though, this decision will be made by telling a valuable story, emphasis on value. All the stats and data being compiled in all these cities across the country will only matter if they’re connected to a vision of the future. Dan Gilbert, Mayor Mike Duggan and many other regional & business leaders are the perfect driving force behind Detroit’s proposal to Amazon. The city is rallying together to get behind a regional & international bid to make #AmazonDetroit a reality. Cue Journey. The city never stopped believing.

Initially that seems at odds with a city that once declared bankruptcy, which is exactly what makes Detroit and the whole #NextBelt a strong value pick. We are creating a quality of life that we hope continues to expand to the whole city and in the process we will transform the region, the state, the country. That is value that goes beyond “getting a good deal.” Try spending one day in Detroit; the pride is undeniable. You can’t help but feel it. It radiates out from everyone. The guy sitting next to you at the bar. The Uber driver. The small business-owner. This is a big city with high standards that still feels like a small town.

Make no mistake, Detroit will succeed regardless of whether or not Amazon puts a headquarters here.

That’s exactly why Amazon should come here and why you should too. Detroit is a place for millennials looking for meaning and purpose, a place you can actually have a real apartment. It’s the place for artists, for cooks, for entrepreneurs looking for affordable space and curious customers. It’s the place business owners looking to tap into the next generation. Detroit is for dreamers & doers. Movers & makers. Come to Detroit and you’ll find a welcoming, authentic and ambitious place. Don’t and you’re just plain missing out.

One day everywhere else is just day one in Detroit.

Written by

Thinker, curious leader, once an attorney…always trying to answer well.

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