TechTown Detroit is located in an old General Motors factory built in 1927. About 40 small businesses work out of the building.
Jason Margolis/NPR

Many University of Michigan business students who have an entrepreneurial streak take Professor Jerry Davis' start-up class. Davis has lived in the Silicon Valley, he has a Ph.D. from Stanford University, and he has advice for young people: Forget the Bay Area.

"You spend a whole lot of your time on freeways. It's expensive, it's annoying. The weather is beautiful, but basically the Bay Area has turned into Los Angeles," Davis says. "All the things that people hate about LA are now true of the Bay Area."

And the home prices are worse. The median price in Silicon Valley now tops $1 million. In Detroit, it's $38,000.

That's appealing to Aaron Mason, a 36-year-old San Franciscan. "Having a yard, having a garden, starting a family, those kinds of things," says Mason, imagining a possible move to Michigan.

The city of Detroit doesn't have a lot of high-tech companies, but it is interested in attracting young tech entrepreneurs like Mason. He's well known among techies — he's helped launch four companies and has 70,000 Twitter followers. It's not just the lifestyle possibilities intriguing him about Michigan — he thinks it might be easier to launch company number five in Detroit.

"Coming from a place like San Francisco, real estate here is really expensive. And so to go to a place like Detroit and see that you have fairly cheap space, and an infrastructure that is already in place, it's a very exciting place to be," Mason says.

He says he likes the scrappy feel of Detroit's emerging tech community, one that is "still sort of getting up and off the ground."

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