The three most common misperceptions that I hear about Detroit are that there are no jobs, there is no one here and there is nothing to do.
But in the past four years, since starting my ventures in Detroit, it has become my personal and professional mission to prove otherwise. If you ask me today what I want to accomplish with my companies and life, it is quite simple to sum up: I want to dispel those three misperceptions.
I won’t lie, at one point, upon my return to the Metro Detroit area 5 years ago, I feared those three things to be true. I myself was faced with the reality that in the five years I had been away -- four years of college in Ohio (don’t worry, I didn’t go to OSU) and one year of exploring the city life of Chicago – the seeming “rite of passage” for all young Michiganders – the familiar faces and childhood friends had disappeared.
We scattered for college and scattered even further when deciding on our new post-graduation city of residence. The world was our oyster and Detroit certainly did not seem like a pearl. So off to the big cities and bright lights we went.
But I only needed one year to realize that Chicago was simply not my home.
And while I had figured out that Chicago was not for me, I had yet to realize that Detroit would forever be my home. So with few friends still left in the area and no clue where to go out and what to do, I decided to take matters into my own hands. If I wanted to meet new people, find out what new restaurants were opening up and where the hot-spots were around town, then I couldn’t have been the only one looking for that same information - and therein lies the story of how After 5 Detroit began!
It was through many conversations and connections with top companies and executives that our next venture took life. Marketing Associates
was making their move from Bloomfield Hills to Detroit, and with 150 skeptical employees expressing their doubts, their fearless leader and CEO, Mark Petroff, was determined to make the transition as smooth and exciting as possible. And we were pleased and thrilled to be involved in that process.
We had “Welcome to Detroit” gift bags on everyone’s desk for their first day downtown. We planned happy hours and events for their staff to learn more about their new neighborhood. We provided coupons and certificates to local shops, bars and restaurants to encourage exploration. And through it all, we had created the foundation of our second business, Connect After 5.
Ask any HR Department. Detroit is a hard place to recruit to.
Couple that with the ever growing desire to be known as a “cool place to work”, companies are continuously trying to find new and innovative ways to showcase the things they do with and for their employees. So we created a turn-key program that develops fun and unique after-work events aimed at assisting local companies in attracting and retaining their employees. With events like Broomball in Campus Martius, Softball at Belle Isle and Floor Hockey at the Boll Family YMCA, our program helps companies build camaraderie, engage their employees in the community and connect them with colleagues at other companies in and around Detroit.
And then the “aha” moment…
After two successful years of working with some of the region’s top companies through our Connect After 5 Program, our third venture came about when one of our company clients asked what we could do with their 200 incoming summer interns and co-ops.
The light bulb then went off. We know that our region struggles to attract and retain recent college graduates. We also know that an essential ingredient in positioning Michigan for future success in a knowledge-driven economy is creating places where talent - particularly young mobile talent - wants to live. Lastly, we know that college graduates will decide where to live based on job opportunities and lifestyle.
The pieces of the puzzle were there - companies around town were preparing to welcome thousands of new interns to their offices this summer and we knew that they would showcase their staff, work-life and job opportunities. The only piece missing was a very big piece for any 21 year old deciding where to live - the lifestyle component: are there others here my age, what is there to do and can I see myself living here post-graduation.
To finish the puzzle, our solution involved alignment with the Hudson Webber Foundation
and the Downtown Detroit Partnership to create the Summer Intern Program.
The program created opportunities that allowed the 450 participating interns and new hires to explore Detroit gems like Eastern Market, experience the downtown lifestyle in the form of a Loft Party, enjoy Detroit gift bags and t-shirts, network and meet others at happy hours and concert meet-ups.
It was a success. It was fun for the interns and beneficial for the companies. And based on the positive feedback and overwhelming interest, we are pleased to announce the continuation of the program for new hires, co-ops and/or interns joining Detroit companies this September through winter.
All in all, I’m a visual and experiential learner. So if it is my goal to showcase the job opportunities, people and great things to do here, then the best way I know how to do it is to go straight to the target demographic and to the companies throughout the region and say, “Come out to play Kickball at Belle Isle”.
Because after you’ve spent an evening under the lights with hundreds of other young professionals reliving their glory days of grade school games, you won’t ask me if Belle Isle is safe after dark, you won’t ask me if there is anyone here your age, you won’t ask me who actually has a job and works downtown. You’ll just walk away with another positive and fun experience in Detroit!
And that is what will start to change perceptions.