Blog: The Return Of 5 Posts You Should Read

Over the last nine months we've made space for 34 of Metro Detroit's thought leaders to offer their insights and opinions about a variety of issues and topics.

From sustainability to retaining talent, venture capital to what makes SE Michigan a great place to live, Metromode prides itself on offering a wide range of ideas and experiences to its readers.

Here a few that you might have missed along the way. Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts and comments.
The Return Of 5 Posts You Should Read - Most Recent Posts:

Stephen Rapundalo

Many in the entrepreneurial biosciences community often lament about the inadequate availability of venture capital and other investment funding in Michigan to grow pre-seed and seed stage companies. Business leaders remain unconvinced that Michigan will become competitive in the life sciences, but they point to start-up funds for life sciences entrepreneurs as the most effective strategy for making Michigan a major player in that sector.  

The state, and for that matter the Midwest region, still suffers relative insignificance in the venture capital world ($105.4 million invested in Michigan vs $29.4 billion nationally in 2007) despite recent efforts by the state to establish a number of fund-to-funds, along with an increase in the number of venture capital firms and the size of their capital funding. While this bodes well for growing technology sectors like life sciences, it still means that start-up companies must look towards the east and west coasts primarily when searching for funding.  

We can point to numerous examples where newly minted companies, born from intellectual property developed at a Michigan academic institution, have had to move to the coasts and follow the money trail. What’s it going to take to insure that home-grown biotech firms can stay in the state, have access to adequate capital investment and relevant resources, and thus insure their long-term commercialization viability?

In a word – success! Success breeds more success. Investors will flock to where there are winners. So more investment capital in Michigan will only occur on the heels of visible wins like Neogen, Esperion Therapeutics, QuatRx Pharmaceuticals, Asterand, and others. As they build successes, it will create the kind of maturity that will provide the capital influx necessary to sustain other start-ups and get the larger businesses to stay and create more jobs themselves. 

The availability of venture capital in Michigan is a necessary component if the state and Midwest region are to become a biotechnology powerhouse. However, it’s a catch-22 situation isn’t it? One can’t get the capital without a nucleus of success, but the industry growth can’t occur without sufficient investment – will we succeed.

Read the rest of Stephen's blog here.


Neeta Delaney

Art Revives Cities

Think for a moment about the most remarkable urban revitalization success stories around the state. Such dramatic transformations of decaying industrial sites and abandoned buildings into thriving, bustling places like the Avenue of the Arts in Grand Rapids, the Entertainment and Cultural Districts of downtown Detroit, the Box Factory in St. Joe, Old Town in Lansing and more recently the Armory Arts Project in Jackson.  

What do they all have in common? Arts and culture were the catalysts.

This phenomenon is not new. Large metropolitan areas like New York City and others have for decades been able to point to countless examples of the culture/commerce connection. What is new, however, is that more of these efforts are happening not by default, but by design.  

"Cultural economic development" is what happens when you engage the creative energy of a community’s artists, designers and cultural institutions in discussions, decisions, planning and implementation of a community’s efforts to breathe new life into its economy.

The result is a more interesting and appealing place to live, work, start or locate a new enterprise. Examples of intentional arts-focused development efforts include affordable artists live/work spaces, public art programs, creative industries innovation centers, river art walks, arts & entertainment districts, historic preservation districts, cultural tourism, arts incubators, performing arts centers and arts and cultural festivals.

Just five years ago, nearly every building in the 100 and 200 block of Division Avenue in Grand Rapids was either vacant or in serious disrepair.  Because of an intentional strategy adopted by the housing-focused nonprofit Dwelling Place, today the Avenue of the Arts community is home to 66 creative residents, seven new businesses and next month two new restaurants. These restaurants alone will bring 80 – 100 jobs to the area. 

By now, it’s common knowledge that the Michigan Opera Theatre’s pioneering restoration of the Detroit Opera House was the catalytic spark for what is now a re-energized downtown sports and entertainment district that bears no resemblance to the dreary abandoned unpeopled place it was just a decade or so ago.  

Artists and gallery owners partnered with the Old Town Business & Art Development Association in Lansing to transform a blighted area adjacent to the Grand River into a cultural/commercial gem with 20,000 visitors attending the annual Blues Fest, another 20,000 attending its Jazz Fest. Lansing’s Old Town was recognized as an outstanding success story by Ikea's "Small Businesses, Big Dreams" contest beating out 50 other cities across the country.  

Arts incubators are also being lauded as catalysts for revitalization with the most recent example of the Jackson Armory Arts Project which has transformed a 19th prison in Jackson into live/work space for dozens of artist entrepreneurs.  The project has already served as the catalyst for new development in the surrounding area and is in the process of transforming the community’s decade’s long negative self-image.

And think about arts and cultural events that rock communities each year.  Launched in 2000, Movement, the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, had 630,000 attendees in just three years injecting $60 million into the economy in one weekend.

Then there's the upcoming ROTHBURY, the giant multi-day music festival with 70 bands playing over the 4th of July weekend at Double JJ Ranch just north of Muskegon, with attendance estimated at 50,000 and the economic impact to be "staggering" to the small lake town community.

Michigan’s nonprofit arts and cultural activities alone generate $2 billion a year, support 108,000 jobs and are the raw material for a $65.5 million cultural tourism industry.

If this region truly wants to grow a creative economy, more people need to see the connection between culture and commerce. The examples are all around us, but we need to shine a brighter light on them!

Read the rest of Neeta's blogs here.

David Knapp

Land. A finite resource. One that some on Wall Street will tell you is the best investment you can make.

But to us, it’s an infinite dispensable commodity. One which since we initially settled this country was ours for the taking. And to lay claim to it was to devour it.

Today, we uphold that mindset and continue to consume land at alarming rates disregarding any signs that would tell us otherwise. Arthur C. Nelson, PhD, professor at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, in his Brookings Institution paper Toward a New Metropolis: The Opportunity to Rebuild America, says, "more than 3,000 square miles of land annually is converted to residential development over one acre in size." Fortunately for us, most of this sprawl takes place at the expense of farms, virgin landscapes, forests and other wildlife habitats. Consume-on!

The effects of sprawl are finally starting to show. Not only are we gobbling up land at increasing rates, but we’re all paying for it too! It’s not like we haven’t been paying for it in gas taxes, transportation taxes, and federal highway project costs. Cause we have! What about the new sewers, water mains, and other public utilities that go out into our new sprawling one acre residential tracts?  Who knows? Who cares?

I’ll tell you one thing that I do know, it wasn’t free. Who’s paying for it?...  Right.

The reality here is that most of us fail to realize how a lot of our tax dollars are being spent. Locally, it’s even a bigger a disaster. We continue to be at the bottom of the list in terms of the percentage of federal dollars reinvested in transportation projects proportionate to the tax dollars we send to Washington.  States and regions above us on this list all have alternative transportation systems in place and is one of the main reasons for our lackluster reinvestment figures.

What am I getting at here? We need to stop subsidizing other region’s transportation projects and we need to stop subsidizing the proliferation of our own sprawl.

In Michigan, specifically in Metro Detroit, it needs to start somewhere and it needs to start now! We have to curb sprawl and start treating our land like an investment. We need to stop building roads and stop building one acre-lot residential housing out beyond the periphery. We need to quit adding new on to our already aging and dilapidated infrastructural systems because it will only further perpetuate the financial burden passed back onto us tomorrow. We absolutely must balance our transportation spending between road maintenance (notice: not "road proliferation") mass transit and other means of transportation.  And I don’t mean splitting the dollar 98%, 1% and 1% respectively. Let’s invest more in mass transit, cause without it, at the rate we’re going, we won’t be able to afford to be motorists in the Motor City.

Plan now for a better future. Long-term thinking… right? Who knows, maybe then Washington will be willing to kick back a few more dollars of our own money?

Sounds like a plan to me. 

Read the rest of David's blog here.

Toby Barlow

Bar Fight

I began in this town like many newcomers do, wide-eyed and dreaming of possibilities. But Detroit is a tough town. You bring any idea for a brighter, shinier tomorrow and into the room someone is always ready to knock you down.

For instance, when I first showed up, I found myself downtown idly musing about the train station.

"Aw, waddaya gotta bring that up for?" asked the fellow at the next barstool.

I ordered another beer and explained how I worked on a film crew once and when we needed a shot of down-and-out urban grit, guess where we filmed? The train station. When tourists want to see signs of what the rust belt’s ugly decline, where do we take them? Locals like to ignore it’s even there, but for the rest of the world, that the Michigan Central Station’s broken down façade stands out front and center as the pre-eminent symbol of our city’s decline.

Meanwhile, plans for the site seem to be eternally stalled. Matty Moroun appeared on the verge of selling it to the city but as far as I know, nothing has happened. There’s no "Save the Station" organization and no visible plan for what to do next.

This is a tragedy of no small order, after all, the building was designed by the same architects who built Grand Central Station. Ideally, something bold and visionary could be done with the station.

Either that, or it should be razed.

That’s when the guy on the barstool came to life again, "Yeah! Tear it down!" he shouted.

"Wait, wait." I said, "If it were renovated, it would cost something like three or four hundred million dollars. But we shouldn’t stop there, we should spend whatever it takes to make it one of the pre-eminent green buildings in the world."

Now the fellow got all ornery, "Woah, what? Detroit is lucky to get ANY kind of development and now you want to jack up the cost by making it all eco-green? What are you, some kind of communist hippie?" That’s when he took a swing at me.

I ducked his punch and pushed him off the barstool before continuing. "Yes," I say, "Because among other issues, Detroit’s problem is that it’s perceived as a throw back to the industrial age. They think we’re dirty, polluted, and frankly kind of backwards. Having an icon like the train station reborn as a geothermal, solar powered building with wind generators on the top, would turn everyone’s idea of Detroit on its ear. Bill McDonough could do it. He did an amazing job on the River Rouge plant."

At this point the guy pushes himself up from the floor and puts up his dukes in a classic Popeye pose. "Come on!" he mumbled, "Come on!"

"Or, I suppose you’re right, we could raze it." I said, trying to appease him in the hopes he’d settle down, "But in that case I would raise money to make a nice city park on the grounds, one that ran to the river. We could save a few pillars from the station and make the park sort of like classical ruins of old, say like Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli. It would be a lot less expensive and the town could probably use a nice park like that. Kind of like what they’re doing with the High Line in New York."

"High Line?! High Line?! I’ll show you a High Line!" I’m not sure what he meant, but at this point the fellow was dancing around, winding up and getting ready to deliver one doozy of  a punch. I tried to ignore him.

"I’d prefer keeping it and restoring it." I continue, "The ideal solution, as far as I can tell, is if someone made the renovation part of a bigger notion. Tie it, say, to a large endowment for renewable science studies at Michigan. The building could be filled with labs and classrooms. The tracks below would carry the students to Anne Arbor and back all day, connecting the two cities with the sort of affordable high speed transit you already find in many of the world’s truly modern cities.

It sounds crazy, but if the right people are approached and the right plans are put on the table, it’s eminently doable. In ten years, the station could go from being an abject grotesque ruin to being the home of world’s next big idea. Until then, it’s just standing there, silently looming over us, taunting us, waiting for the rest of the Detroit to sink down into its ruin."

By the time the drunk finally swung at me, I was so caught up in my thoughts, I’d honestly forgotten he was even there. His fist hit my head – ironically enough - with the full force of a freight train and I was down on the floor, knocked out cold.

Which is too bad, really, ‘cause I think he would have really liked my plans for Tiger Stadium.

Read the rest of Toby's posts here.

Jessica Pfeiffer

The Brain Drain & What have internships got to do with it??

We’ve all read the statistics and heard the news. Michigan and its economy are struggling. Our college graduates are leaving the state with their talent, energy and entrepreneurial spirit in tow. The fruits of our state’s investment in public education are packing up and leaving for what they perceive to be greener pastures. These are not just statistics, my friends- each one of these college graduates is a young person with a story and a dream. Along the way, something derails the part of that dream where the young person’s career is flourishing here, close to their families and in their home state, with its beautiful lakes, premier sports teams, affordable historical housing and international flavor. I know, because, not so long ago, I was one of those young people with one of those stories.

When I graduated from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, bachelor’s degree with honors in one hand, internship lined up in a top Detroit law firm for the summer and admission & partial scholarship to Duke University School of Law in the other, my dream was clear. Finish law school, find a position practicing law in Detroit and then find a way to give back to the community with my pro bono time until I had paid off the law school loans and could spend all of my days doing work that would help rebuild the city which I’d grown up in and which I loved. Let there be no doubt, I LOVED THIS CITY, for better or for worse, and I still do. Back then, I would have added, “‘til death do us part.” But it was not to be, like a fickle lover, Detroit has not once, but twice, burned me in the job market.

The first time, it was a painful experience but I found another offer and like so many of our young graduates, I moved away. I had finished my first semester of law school and began my search for a summer internship. With straight A’s from a top law school, hiring me should have been a no-brainer, but summer jobs in the top Detroit law firms were either not available for first year law students, or even worse, I was told that people from my out-of-state law school don’t stay in Detroit so they wouldn’t hire me.

Talk about a self-fulfilling prophesy.

If Detroit law firms wouldn’t have me, however, several of the country’s other top law firms were knocking on my door, so I followed the opportunity and I spent that first summer interning at the prestigious global law firm, then known as Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue, in their main office just a few hours away in Cleveland, Ohio. The training that I received at Jones Day that summer opened doors around the country and around the world that were not open for me in Detroit, and, because of that one fateful summer, dream effectively derailed. I next moved to Washington D.C., Chicago, London and Dallas sharpening my skills at another of the top global law firms and in the corporate law departments of Boeing and Harley-Davidson.

My dream was not completely off the tracks, however, and I kept Detroit close to my heart. In the Spring of 2006, the right opportunity presented itself, and I moved back the Detroit to join the legal Department of Comerica as a Vice President & Corporate & Securities Counsel. I was living the dream: I bought a house in Corktown, I joined the board of a local nonprofit, Southwest Solutions, found other volunteer outlets, cheered for the Tigers and all was well with the world.

Alas, it was not to last.

We’ve all heard about Comerica’s headquarters relocation. My position was one of the first to move. Luckily, by this time, I was better equipped to fight for my dream. I worked my network of contacts, and found the perfect position to allow me to stay in Detroit and advance my dream. I now spend my days building connections and working on plans to promote internships and keep our college graduates in the state. There will be lots more about that program- the MORE Program, Michigan Opportunities and Resources for Entrepreneurs, in tomorrow’s installment.

The lessons the region needs to take away from my story and those of others like me are many, but this week I’m going to focus on just a few. I’m going to talk about internships – why they are good for business and good for retaining talent.  I’ll also discuss my program and other tactics that are in place or that should be to help Michigan retain our college graduates in the state.

Read the rest of Jessica's blog here:

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