When Black Enterprise announced its decision to have its 2009 Entrepreneurs Conference + Expo in Detroit, the move raised more than a few eyebrows. After all, if the nation was in a recession at the time, surely Detroit must be in a full-fledged depression. The automotive industry—the city’s lifeblood—was facing its worst business climate ever, prompting massive layoffs, restructurings, and, in General Motors’ case, bankruptcy. The city, which was struggling prior to the events in the auto industry, had to contend with high rates of unemployment and poverty as well as real estate values that had plummeted to the point where a significant portion of the population found their mortgage balance exceeded the value of their homes.
But BE was undeterred. Detroit, a predominantly African American city, needed (and still needs) help. Following the old adage that there lies opportunity in every crisis, the conference, held in the city’s downtown Renaissance Center, proved to be a resounding success. Despite the economy and some reservations about the locale, nearly 1,000 entrepreneurs and professionals attended workshops and sessions geared toward giving budding entrepreneurs and seasoned business owners information, tools, and networking opportunities needed to succeed.
Detroit has also held historic importance to be because it has represented one of the metro areas that has given rise to black economic and political power over the past four decades. It spawned a number of BE 100s companies, including those among the nation’s largest black-owned auto dealers, automotive suppliers, and advertising agencies. In fact, the cover of our June 1998 issue hailed the city as one of the hubs of black entrepreneurial growth and opportunity. But 10 years later, Detroit has become almost a lifeless husk.
That’s why BE’s editors posed the question, “What would have to happen to turn Detroit around?” After a significant amount of discussion, we attempted to answer that question in this issue. Taking point on a comprehensive feature devoted to plotting the urban hub’s resurrection was Editorial Director Alan Hughes, our resident expert on the BE 100s as well as business and economic issues. He traveled back and forth to the Motor City, conducting research on its past, present, and potential future. Speaking with economists, historians, business leaders, urban planning/experts, and elected officials, Hughes took a critical look at revitalization plans by the city, state, and even some concerned individuals to design a blueprint for Detroit.
In addition to his findings within our pages, a wealth of related content can be found at www.blackenterprise.com/Detroit-economy where Hughes pens a trio of analytical articles that takes a look at the city’s proposed Aerotropolis, offers tips on what must happen to increase tourism, and where the automotive industry fits into the city’s future. “Detroit was a victim of its past success. The auto industry was so good to the city that it didn’t think to diversify its economic base beyond making cars,” says Hughes. “What I wanted to point out was the fact that the city actually has a lot of potential. It’s like a stock that’s gotten beaten down but if the policymakers and business leaders make the hard decisions, it could rebound nicely.”