CNBC: Detroit, From Urban Blight to Tech Might

Can technological might reduce urban blight?

Business and civic leaders in Detroit certainly hope so.

The city’s troubles are well documented. The auto industry’s decline highlighted a population and brain drain that made Detroit one of the lasting symbols of the Great Recession.

In July of 2009, unemployment in the city touched 18-percent.


A stubborn 10.5 percent. But a whole lot better, and one reason for the positive trend: Technology jobs.

“The energy in the city, what’s happening, the things that are taking place, it feels like it’s not a tipping point. It feels past it,” said 38-year old Scott Aberle, who left San Francisco and Silicon Valley to work at Detroit-based Quicken Loans. “We’re really in the midst of a Renaissance.”

That’s right. He said Renaissance.

It might be laying it on a little thick … or maybe not.

Detroit native and chairman of Quicken Loans, Dan Gilbert, has been buying up just about all the viable commercial real estate he can find. And when he’s not remodeling what his company has purchased, Gilbert’s using his venture capital firm, Detroit Venture Partners, to seed a mini-boom in start-up technology companies.

“Technology as a whole can create value and wealth a whole lot quicker,” Gilbert said. “With manufacturing, it takes five to seven years from conception to building a plant.

“In the tech business, the time frame is shorter and the investment of capital is smaller.”

For example, the firm they simply call DVP recently took an old theatre’s office building and retrofitted it to be an avant garde space for early stage start-ups. It is named “M@dison”, and ironically, the homage must have worked because Twitter just took up some space there.

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