Can Detroit Be Saved?

The Motor City struggles to rise from the ashes of economic depression and reinvent itself as a center for entrepreneurship and industry



Gov. Granholm hopes Detroit's manufacturing, transportation, and construction capabilities combined with inexpensive housing could lead to renewed interest from large and small businesses in growth industries.

Gov. Granholm hopes Detroit's manufacturing, transportation, and construction capabilities combined with inexpensive housing could lead to renewed interest from large and small businesses in growth industries.

 The New Growth Industries

Beyond the green space, four other industries could provide significant jobs and tax revenues. They are:

Motion Pictures: Even in a brutal economy, the motion picture industry managed to grow 1.7% in 2008 with the domestic box office generating $9.79 billion. Detroit is positioning itself as a major player by making tax incentives available to filmmakers. According to city officials, 68 films were produced in Detroit last year including 12 major motion pictures. Transformers, Dreamgirls, and Gran Torino are among big-name films shot there in recent years. “This was an entertainment city for a long time and you’ve still got a generation or two removed from the great Motown years where we still have a lot of talented young folks here and they don’t want to leave,” says Bing.

Healthcare: The healthcare industry is one of the largest in the U.S. with estimated expenditures (which include prescription drugs) of $2.2 trillion—that’s trillion, not billion. The city is home to Henry Ford Health Care System, Detroit Medical Center, St. John Health System, and Beaumont Hospitals. According to Bing, these facilities have been growing on average more than 10% a year for the past five years and are projected to expand at the same rate over the next five years.

Construction: The Bing administration is working with the federal government to make Detroit a priority in its economic recovery initiative. In June, the federal government approved nearly $125 million in funding for the city to attract jobs and investment through its recovery bond program—funds that can be used to rebuild roads and infrastructure. A proposal to revamp the city’s woeful mass transportation system is under consideration.

Automotive: Auto may be a four-letter word in southeast Michigan, but people are still going to buy cars and Detroit will likely remain the center of the U.S. automotive industry. If American automakers such as General Motors and Ford can turn around their fortunes as smaller, leaner players (and analysts are fairly optimistic they can) then the city should position itself as the place where next generation fuel-efficient technologies are developed. “One of the big bets that we are making is that electric vehicles will be an integral part of the automotive platform and strategy for years to come,” says Rod Gillum, GM’s vice president of corporate responsibility and diversity.

For these industries to take root and thrive, however, it’s imperative that Detroit ensure its business incubators and training and educational programs remain open to produce the next generation of entrepreneurs. This means financing. And believe it or not, Michigan has it. “You go 50 miles down the road to Ann Arbor that God knows is wealthy enough. They’ve got something like 17 venture capital companies of one sort or another in that small town, feeding off the university expertise,” says TechTown’s Charlton, pointing out that there’s just one such firm in  Detroit—Oracle Partners. “Job No. 1: You’ve just got to raise investment funds to invest in these small businesses.”

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  • Dear Mr. Alan Hughes,

    I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed your article on Can Detroit Be Saved? The thing I liked best was how you featured the pivotal role that many members of the BE 100 have played in the role of Detroit, the role of Tech Town, and the role entrepreneurs like Jimmy King. The funny thing about Detroit is that though Detroit has always had numerous companies listed in the BE 100 year after year, they are invisible in the hometown media like the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News because they are hostile to to black businesses and politicians like Mayor Kilpatrick who though he had his faults brought the city a Superbowl, and a major shipping port that will be opening this coming summer behind GM’s international HQ, the Ren Cen. Great story and keep up the great work!


    Mr. Winston Shines
    Principal Consultant
    Maximillian Bryan & Marcell Technologies Internationale LLC
    Detroit, MI

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