“Detroit is a blank canvas.” I cringe every time I hear this phrase, even though it’s used by people who mean well.
To say something that references “emptiness” regarding a city founded in 1701 is both unfair and inaccurate, as it implies that there’s nothing here—or worse—that there’s nothing worth talking about here.
By suggesting this, the speaker disregards momentum building around the Detroit 2.0 movement, which is in full swing. Dan Gilbert, my partner in Detroit Venture Partners, has purchased nearly four million square feet of commercial real estate, setting off a trigger reaction for private investment downtown, where sports, business, technology, and the arts converge. Over the next few years, we’ll witness the positive effects of our city’s revitalization from within, as fallout from this tipping point of innovation.
Rather than refer to Detroit as a blank canvas, perhaps it makes more sense to call it an unfinished one. There are already splatters of paint on the board demonstrating promise, as well as blunders that need to be fixed. However, there is still enough white space left for someone to come in and make a mark, which will leave a lasting impression on the painting. People innovating and using creativity to win are making some of the most impactful brush strokes; the end result is a more beautiful painting for us all to enjoy.
Entrepreneurship requires you to hunker down and get started. It’s true that the landscape in Detroit is more worn than others you might find. That being said, there’s a strong case to be made for starting a business here, stemming precisely from these long-standing challenges and problems. The following elements are like buckets of paint, a toolkit of brushes, or even a paint-by-number guide: they make it easier for someone to add to the canvas.
Talent: This area is chock full of people who are hungry for an opportunity. New graduates make up the first camp—those born and bred in the region are educated in a local network of world-class universities, leaving ready to enter the business world. The current market has forced many of these graduates to launch their careers elsewhere, causing a “brain drain,” but this trend can be stopped by providing jobs locally. Unfortunately for the economy, there’s a large group of professionals who are out of work. Engineers, laborers, techies, sales associates, managers, consultants, and a whole host of others now need jobs, many of whom have years of business experience under their belt. For a savvy business owner, this second group provides a capable workforce. Why pay more to fight over average talent elsewhere when you could have your choice of hirable, less expensive A-listers in Detroit?
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