WSJ: Detroit's Engine Roars on Signs of Turnaround

Wall Street Journal
Joesph B. White

If there is any place in a gloomy nation that is better off right now than it was four years ago, Detroit would be it.

The Motor City, with its thousands of blighted houses, auto-industry layoffs and dwindling population, became a symbol of economic despair during the depths of the recent recession. Even now, southeast Michigan bears the scars of that downturn and others that came before it.

But lately, the mood in the region is more positive than in much of the rest of the country—and not only on game days.

The success of Detroit's sports team are distracting America's attention from what's really going on in the motor city : an improbable uptick in the city's fortunes. Joe White discusses with Simon Constable and Wendy Bounds on The News Hub.

The triumphs of the city's professional sports teams have helped, of course. The Detroit Tigers' victory over the favored New York Yankees in Thursday's decisive American League divisional playoff game had fans roaring in bars all over the city. The next round of playoff games could bring millions of dollars in additional business for hotels, bars, restaurants and other businesses near the team's home field in downtown Detroit.

An equally big boost for Detroit spirits is the sudden success of the city's pro football team, the Lions. The Lions, a perennial NFL doormat that made history by going winless just three seasons ago, are undefeated so far this season, and will make their first appearance on Monday Night Football in nearly ten years. The University of Michigan and Michigan State football teams are also enjoying winning seasons.

Those televised sports successes have prompted out-of-town media to say nice things about Detroit for a change.

But for locals, it appears there's more to cheer about than Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez's game-ending strikeout, or the Dallas Cowboys' second-half collapse against the Lions last Sunday.

The state's unemployment rate remains higher at 11% than the national average, but it has fallen by 1.5 percentage points since July 2010—a larger percentage drop than all but three other states—and is down from a peak of over 14% in late 2009. Housing prices in Metro Detroit have ticked up after years in freefall, as more young home buyers seize bargains in the suburbs and the city.

Gov. Rick Snyder has won praise from corporate leaders for pushing an overhaul of the state's business-tax code through the legislature earlier this year, and for balancing the state's budget.

Nobody, including Gov. Snyder, says Detroit or Michigan's problems are solved. Detroit's city budget is deep in the red and its schools have been taken over by a state-appointed emergency manager. Some of Mr. Snyder's prescriptions for the state's economy, such as taxing pensions and capping welfare benefits at four years, have drawn fire from critics who say his efforts to spur business investment only add to the burdens of the elderly and poor.

An August poll by EPIC/MRA of Lansing, Mich., found that 54% of respondents said Michigan was on the "wrong track," while 31% said the state was headed in the right direction. But the state scored better than the U.S. as a whole—75% of respondents said the country was on the wrong track.

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It’s no secret Buddy’s Pizza is a favorite here in metro Detroit. The word is out across the country as well. The restaurant that invented the first deep dish square pizza crust – pioneering Detroit’s original style pizza – has again earned the number one spot for independent pizzeria on Pizza Today’s Hot 100 list.

The award debuts in the magazine’s October 2011 issue.  The Hot 100 list was compiled from mail out surveys that ranked the 100 largest independent pizzarias from across the nation, based on sales. As noted in Pizza Today, “This issue is eagerly devoured by readers and the list is a testament to the ingenuity, diligence and skill of the pizzeria owners who make the grade.”

Owner Robert Jacobs was pleased to see Buddy’s Pizza earn recognition for the work his staff does every day. “For the past 65 years Buddy’s Pizza has been serving Detroit with quality and creativity - and we’re proud to continue that tradition. We’ve grown along with our customers but we remain true to our history, our roots and that indendent spirit that started it all. We’re really pleased to be recognized by Pizza Today, and our customers.”

Buddy’s Pizza fans and customers share their thoughts daily on the Buddy’s Pizza Facebook page and Twitter feed. Former and current employees joined a Buddy’s Facebook group to keep in touch.

Earlier this year, Buddy’s unveiled the Motor City Pizza Collection, four inspired pizzas on the Buddy’s menu which are each associated with and benefiting a non-profit cultural institution in the metro Detroit area. When customers purchase The Detroit Institute of Arts; The Henry Ford; The Parade Company or The Detroit Zoo pizza, Buddy’s will donate $1 will to the non-profit institution throughout 2011.

Showing their Detroit spirit, Buddy’s experimented with its first square beer crust this year, by incorporating Kid Rock’s Badass Beer into their Kid Rock’s Badass Detroiter pizza. It is only available at the original 6 Mile and Conant location in Detroit.


A coalition of Detroit residents, small business owners, and other stakeholders are coming together to fund a crowdfunding project aimed a placing a painting featuring Detroit’s Big Three on a billboard along with the phrase “Imagine what Detroit could do if we all worked together.”

The painting, Detroit-born artist Miguel “Belozro” Yeoman’s original work “The Rebuild,” depicts three futuristic laborers representing Ford, Chrysler & GM triangulated around the globe, working together.

Miguel and his business partner James Feagin, Head of Marketing and Strategic Management for BeloZro Visual Energy  have teamed up with Jerry Paffendorf of Loveland Technologies for the project.

Jerry Paffendorf’s previous successful crowdfunding projects include raising over $67,000 to build a statue of Robocop.

They are using the crowdfunding platform Loudsauce.com, a website similar to Kickstarter which allows donors to contribute amounts as little as a dollar to causes and projects they support.

Contributors to the project can receive rewards for funding the project ranging from their name listed on the website ImagineDetroitTogether.org to a t-shirt depicting the image.

Top level donors a can even have their picture or company logo placed on the billboard to signify their level of contribution.

The San Fransisco based loudsauce.com focuses on ‘amplifying ideas that matter” by securing major media outlets such as billboards, television commercials, and bus signs at a discount to broadcast the messages of successful projects.

The billboard project, titled “Challenge people to think big about Detroit’s future via a billboard” has raised over $500 of it’s $3,500 goal in less than a week, and expects to announce several large contributions in the next few days.

Interested donors can find the project’s Loudsauce campaign page: www.ImagineDetroitTogether.org.


BeloZro Visual Energy, founded in May 2011 by James Feagin and Miguel “BeloZro” Yeoman, promotes and manages the brand featuring t-shirts and other merchandise based on the original artwork of BeloZro.
William E. Ketchum, III
NPR

 In the 30 plus years of its history, the pendulum of influence in hip-hop has swung between a few cities and regions — New York, California, the Dirty South (which has at various times been voiced by Houston, New Orleans and Atlanta).

It's a tough nut to crack — dominating the sound and style of hip-hop music for any stretch of time. And while Detroit may not have a singular sound or any one artist spawning imitators even outside city lines, at this moment, five rappers from the area are in the national spotlight. The cliques that once divvied up Motor City's underground hip-hop scene have begun working together, intersecting on records, on stage and in national media.

In the context of a city known for its poverty, crime and fallen businesses, the shift is notable. And though the collaborations that are happening now are not the only reason these artists — Royce Da 5'9", Black Milk, Danny Brown, FowL and Big Sean — are enjoying real visibility, it certainly doesn't hurt their cause.

"When we first started, if you went anywhere abroad and said that you were a Detroit rapper, nobody cared," Royce Da 5'9" remembers. "We kind of have a name now. We've grinded to the point that we've created a standard that I'm very proud of. We have to live up to that standard."

Danny Brown
Since those early days a few hip-hop musicians have given Detroit a taste of glory — but none have managed to spread the love onto every upandcomer that shares the 313 area code or create the kind of infrastructure that could support a burgeoning scene. And, aside from Eminem, the most influential albums and artists have remained under the radar of mainstream media and commercial radio.

We all remember Eminem's pop takeover in the late 1990s when he paired his potty-mouthed brilliance with veteran producer Dr. Dre's beats and industry experience, going on to become the best-selling artist of the 2000s. His record label, Shady Records, helped other city talent like his group D12 and solo artist Obie Trice taste platinum-certified success as well. 8 Mile, the semi-autobiographical film about Eminem that was named after a road in Detroit, featured cameos by the likes of Detroit underground staples such as Miz Korona and MarvWon (some in bonus DVD footage).

But until recently, that's where the mainstream visibility ended. Legendary producer James "J Dilla" Yancey laid an audible blueprint for what would later be categorized as "neo-soul" music, and contributed songs to superstars such as Busta Rhymes, Janet Jackson and Common. Still, he didn't get his just due until 2006, after he died of complications from lupus. Yancey's group, Slum Village, also enjoyed limited chart success but never completely broke through into mainstream circles.

For years, Detroit's rap scene was largely self-sustained. Acts from the city and the surrounding area, like DeShaun "Proof" Holton (D12 member and Eminem's best friend) and Elzhi, made their rounds in venues like The Hip-Hop Shop and The Shelter before becoming regional indie powerhouses. "It started out as an individual thing. Now, I think all of us realize it can't be an individual thing," says Royce Da 5'9". "We've all been self-contained over the years, but now we realize there's strength in numbers. It's good to be unified, as opposed to everyone on their own agenda."

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The Best Way To Spend 17 Minutes Today (Video)


People Mover from 4exit4 on Vimeo.
4exit4 Productions presents the premiere of People Mover, a short film capturing 24 local artists, cooks, thinkers and musicians as they came together to showcase Detroit's spirit, performing inside the train one day in April.

Executive Producer: Toby Barlow
Produced by: Dorota Coy and Brian Merkel
Edited by: Jeffrey Richardson
Director of Photography: Jeffrey Richardson
Art Director: Michael Burdick




Featuring:


Sean Mann
Stevie Ansara steviesoul.com/​
Stephanie Schult and Frances Mackey
Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas jessicahernandez.net/​
Cedric Tai and Rachel Yezbick cedrictai.com/​
Rick Robinson and Hong-Yi Mo (of the DSO) detroitsymphony.com/​
Cold Men Young coldmenyoung.com/​
Miguel Baptista soundcloud.com/​mbaptistabenedict
Rachel Harkai rachelharkai.com/
Black Tia beehiverecording.com/​arist.aspx?id=1028
Ray Domzalski raydomzalski.com/​
Charlie Slick charlieslick.bandcamp.com/​
Marsden Berger metrotimes.com/​editorial/​story.asp?id=8756
Steve Martin
hygenic dress league hygienicdressleague.com/​
Dave Mancini and Grant Lancaster supinopizza.com/​, citywingsinc.com/​
Prussia prussiadetroit.com/​
Deep River Choir y-artsdetroit.org/​deepriverchoir.html
Bill Snellings thewright.org/​
Mexican Knifes facebook.com/​pages/​Mexican-Knives/​203319536373958?sk=wall
Detroit Party Marching Band facebook.com/​DetroitPartyMarchingBand
Greg Lenhoff leopoldsbooks.com/​
Mark Binelli markbinelli.com/​
Me and Joe Smith feat. Izzy Smith meandjoesmith.com/​

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