Many people look at the vacant lots, abandoned buildings and the crisis in the American auto industry and see a Detroit that is dying…if not already dead. Others look at those same things and see a Detroit that is full of opportunity…a place where dreams can come true.
I'm living my dream here…and I could not be doing it anywhere else. When we take people around Detroit, we show them examples of successful businesses, creative projects, the untapped potential. We want to inspire them to create their idea, their dream, in Detroit…to utilize the land, restore the buildings, create businesses and jobs like many are doing right now. That is the future.
Detroit's motto is Speramus Meliora Resurget Cineribus, which means "We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes." That is what we are in the midst of doing right now…rebuilding ourselves, both literally and figuratively. It's an amazing time to be in Detroit, and I wouldn't miss it for anything.
Check out this video blog and the links below to learn more about projects and businesses that are tapping into Detroit's potential.
Power House Project
Detroit Unreal Estate Agency
The Heidelberg Project
Bureau of Urban Living
Good Girls Go to Paris Crepes
Canine to Five Dog Daycare
Open City Detroit
This past March, we helped train almost 500 hospitality employees in Metro Detroit in preparation for the NCAA Final Four. There was a portion about how to be hospitable - smile, use the person's name, etc. The other portion of the training was around being an ambassador for the city and region. Ambassadors represen the region to outsiders by sharing information about things to do, places to go, and how to get there.
Ambassadors help people enjoy their experience in Detroit, because if they enjoy their time here maybe they'll come back another time. Or maybe they'll tell others that they should come here. Or maybe they'll simply say something nice about Detroit next time it comes up in conversation. Each of those scenarios is good for Detroit and the region. Not just in a fluffy-good-feeling kind of way, but in a more-money-coming-to-the-state kind of way.
The national perception of Detroit has improved considerably in recent years, due in large part to people coming here for national events like the All Star Game, Super Bowl, Ryders Cup and the Final Four. Once people actually come here and experience the city, they can't help but like it. With that improved perception comes more conferences, more businesses, more special events…more money and more jobs.
The Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau has been working hard to capitalize on these improving perceptions, even winning an award for an ad in a meeting planners magazine in which they ask: Who’s the genius that picked Detroit? The answer: MENSA for their 2010 International Convention…if the smartest people in the world are picking Detroit, then why aren’t you?
With all the doom and gloom that has been permeating the news lately, it can sometimes be difficult to come up with positive things to say about Detroit. That's when it's even more important. If we want others to be excited about coming here, we have to be excited about being here. If we want others to say nice things about us, then we have to be able to say nice things about ourselves.
Sometimes outsiders are more excited about what we have here than we are. People from New York and Chicago are big Detroit lovers, and we work with people coming from all over the world (think France, Germany, Japan, Belgium, Russia...), both to visit and to live, that are ecstatic to be here. They want to see the Guardian Building and Mies van der Rohe homes in Lafayette Park. They fall in love with Belle Isle and Eastern Market. They can't believe that there are places like Cliff Bell's and The Magic Stick, where they can hear world-renowned musicians up close and personal. They have a myriad of nice things to say about Detroit.
We must remember that we are all Detroit ambassadors. It is not a choice; it is a fact. We all represent our region, and we all want it to succeed. So find something that you get excited about and be ready to share it with someone next time you're on a plane or get stopped for directions or asked for a restaurant recommendation. If you need some help…just let us know. We have plenty of things we're excited about, and we'd love to share them with you.
There are 131 municipalities in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties, each with their own mayor, borders and identity. Regardless of whether you live in Royal Oak or Royal Oak Township, Grosse Pointe Woods or Grosse Pointe Farms, Dearborn or Dearborn Heights, or anywhere else in this region, there is no doubt that we are all in this together. By this I mean economically, culturally and how we are perceived nationally…the whole kit and caboodle, and like it or not…Detroit is the nucleus.
We try to help people see the benefits to Detroit being the region's anchor. Yes, it has problems, but it also has history, culture, industry and an indefatigable spirit. You could take the nicest house in the nicest suburb and if you picked it up and put it the middle of nowhere its value would decrease. It's the proximity to museums, theaters, sporting events, industry and much more that make it a desirable place for people to live.
The future is about regionalism - about working together and realizing that each city brings its own benefits to the region. Each city has pros and cons, and one person's pro might be another's con, but that's what is great about this region. We have something for everyone.
We have a group from the Army coming into Detroit in a couple of weeks that is considering relocating over 100 families to Southeast Michigan. We are very excited to show them the breadth and depth of our region. We will not just show them Detroit. We will not just show them one county. We are going to show them the entire region and hopefully they will choose to move here. If they do, they will do so not just because of the assets of one county or one city but because of all the assets in the region as a whole.
While these families explore our region, I challenge each of you to do the same; to answer the question: Why do you live here?
If you can't come up with a good list, then it's time to get out of the house. Explore Detroit…the whole Detroit. If you live in Chesterfield Township, go check out the Henry Ford in Dearborn. If you live in Northville, go see the new Partridge Creek Mall in Clinton Township. If you live in Pontiac, go for a walk in Downtown Wyandotte….and if you live anywhere in the region…come discover all the amazing things that Detroit has to offer. Trust me, you'll be happy that you did.
I get asked all the time, "Why would you want to live in Detroit?" to which I respond, "Let me tell you a little bit about my life. I can walk to over 130 bars and restaurants, from Cuban food to German food and from jazz music to techno. I can walk to over 13,000 theater seats, from Broadway to opera to avant garde. I can walk to Tigers games, Lions games and Red Wings games. I am blocks away from Campus Martius Park and all of its free concerts, movies and events. Then there's the amazing architecture, the Riverwalk, Eastern Market. I could go on and on, but the biggest reason I love living in Detroit, is the sense of community. Each one of those restaurants/bars is locally owned and operated. Sitting in the park, reading a book, I see my friends and neighbors ride by on bikes. We talk about business, politics, religion and all sorts of things at the bars, restaurants and shops. I get all the amenities of a big city with the community benefits of a small town…it's pretty darn amazing."
Many of you reading this have probably heard similar answers before, but do you know who hasn't? Thousands and thousands of college students across the region and the state as well as thousands of young professionals and artists that currently work in the region. Study after study has shown the importance of attracting and retaining talent to the economic future of Michigan and while there are a myriad of answers as to how to keep talent here, the simplest is to educate them on what our city and state has to offer.
We have given tours to different universities, from Wayne State to Saginaw Valley State, where we emphasize community and opportunity by introducing them to urban farming and successful small businesses. We've put on team building scavenger hunts for staff from the Marriott Renaissance Center and the Department of Labor and Economic Growth, helping them get out of their offices and notice things that they hadn't in their 30 years of working downtown. We've spoke at new hire orientations for Ernst and Young, and taken Miller Canfield interns on a tour so that they know all the benefits of working (and hopefully living) in Detroit.
The response afterwards is always the same. "I had no idea that Detroit had these kinds of things." or "I’ve worked downtown for 30 years and didn’t know half of this stuff." Or my favorite from a 2nd year University of Michigan student: "It hadn’t even crossed my mind to stay in Michigan after I graduated, but now I think I want to live in Detroit."
As a grassroots organization we have only been able to reach a miniscule percentage of the talented people in Michigan who have their eyes on seemingly greener pastures. My dream is to reach a critical mass of students, young professionals and other talented people and show them the Detroit that is full of creativity, opportunity and community because every one of them who chooses to stay in Michigan increases the state's chances of being successful in the future.
There are over 130 bars and restaurants in the approximately one square mile of Detroit's Central Business District, and that's not counting any fast food chains or places that are only open for lunch. Don't believe me? Here's a complete checklist so you can see how many you have, or haven't, been to.
If you were surprised by that fact, or any of these other ones, you aren't alone. There are lots of things about Detroit that most people are surprised to learn. That's why we started Inside Detroit…to introduce people to a Detroit that defies expectations. Inside Detroit began when Maureen Kearns and I came together under the same thought: The more people know Detroit, the more they love it.
As two people who lived, worked and played in Detroit we wanted to show others the great gems, many of them hidden, that Detroit had to offer, but we wanted to do it from an Insider's perspective. Not only did we want to show people the history and architecture, we wanted to show them where they could find great boutiques and great beer too. Most importantly we wanted to introduce people to the Detroit community, which is full of diverse, interesting and friendly people. It isn't about just giving tours. It's about telling the story, and sharing the experiences, of the Detroit we know and love.
Recently we opened the Downtown Welcome Center at 1253 Woodward, just north of Campus Martius Park, to provide information of all sorts to locals and visitors alike, from maps to museum info, and from the Detroit Derby Girls schedule to the Good Girls Go to Paris Crepe menu. The Welcome Center includes the Local 1253 where we sell all sorts of goods from local creative small businesses like Citybird and Motor City Candle Works. We also open the Welcome Center to community groups like Detroit Synergy and Cityscape to hold meetings and events.
We offer tours and operate the Downtown Welcome Center because neither the city nor the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau have the resources to do so. The Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau is a member-based organization that works hard to bring conventions to the area but does not offer tours to the public nor operate a Welcome Center. We use our information and resources to assist the DMCVB and city in any way we can.
Whether someone has been in Metro Detroit their whole life, or has just arrived, there are always more interesting things to learn, fantastic events to experience and amazing people to meet. That's why we're kicking off the summer with a (Re)Discover Detroit weekend. We want people to get up, get out and find something new and different to get excited about in Detroit. We've got something for everyone.
On Friday, May 1, we are having an Open House at our new Downtown Welcome Center; Saturday, May 2, we have walking tours at 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m and a Best of Detroit Bar Tour starting at 8:00 p.m.; then Sunday, May 3, we're putting on a family friendly Detroit Scavenger Hunt from 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. And if that's not enough...there's a whole list of great events going on this weekend. So pick one and explore your own town!
After three years of tours, outings and presentations we have reached more than 3,000 people, yet we've only gotten a glimpse of how great the need is for what we are doing. We have had nothing but positive responses from visitors, businesses and residents who continually let us know how valuable the information we offer truly is, and how we've shown them things they never would have expected.
Over the next few days I'll talk about how a little bit of information and insight can help attract and retain talent, increase regionalism, combat negative perceptions of the region, and even promote economic development.