Entrepreneurs Find A Way Around Detroit’s Troubles

Article about the entrepreneurs of Detroit that are taking matters into their own hands because nothing is getting done with the current government gridlock. Read, enjoy, comment and share!

Grand Hotel

Grand Hotel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The magnificent, 660-foot porch of the Grand Hotel on Michigan’s picturesque Mackinac Island is a place where the state’s movers and shakers congregate each year to trade ideas on how to shape the state’s future.

But this year, there’s one group missing from the Detroit Chamber of Commerce’s annual Mackinac PolicyConference: the policy-makers. State legislators are hunkered down in Lansing, trying to pass a state budget while Detroit city leaders are preoccupied with trying to manage its fiscal crisis under the shackles of a state oversight board or risk bankruptcy.

What’s fascinating to me, though, is that it doesn’t really matter that the politicians are absent, or at least marginalized, this year. The real movers and shakers are the entrepreneurs and business leaders who are moving the state’s economy forward in spite of government gridlock.

Regardless of how the crisis is resolved, investors have factored Detroit’s financial problems into their calculations and decided to invest anyway.

“Competition is national, and international. If you don’t capitalize on opportunities, you get left behind,” Tim Bryan, chairman and chief executive of GalaxE Solutions, told me during a break between sessions. His IT services company has hired 150 high-tech workers in downtown Detroit and served as a magnet for other companies seeking highly skilled workers. “You can’t stop what you’re doing to wait for the fiscal crisis to be resolved. It’s not an option.”

Business, like nature, kind of finds a way,” said Sandy K. Baruah, the president and chief executive of the Detroit chamber. “Obviously, we have problems in the city of Detroit, but business is finding a way to overcome that.”

It helps, of course, that after a couple of disastrous years, the auto industry is springing back to life, spurring hiring across the region in many related industries. But other companies, big and small, smell opportunity in Detroit and are moving to capitalize on it.

“The people in Detroit are interested in the entrepreneurial side of food and urban agriculture. They told us they wanted fresh, clean stores,” said Red Elk Banks, executive operations coordinator for trendy supermarket chain Whole Foods of Texas. “That’s when we decided we have to go in there, act a little crazy and open a store.” Its 20,000-square-foot store in a resurgent Midtown neighborhood will be the first new grocery store in the city in many years.

The spin-off effect is already evident. Banks said Whole Foods has handed out $10 million in loans to local food producers. “Part of our business model is taking small local food producers and helping them scale up,” said Banks. “We’re only successful if the local food economy is successful.”

New shops, services and restaurants are opening up at a pace not seen in decades. Meanwhile, companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan are consolidating their workforces downtown, and two large hospital groups, the Detroit Medical Center and Henry Ford Health Systems, are together spending more than $1.5 billion to expand their respective campuses. Quicken Loans moved its headquarters to Detroit and its founder, billionaire Dan Gilbert, has acquired and modernized nine buildings downtown to create a new hub of IT activity.

Detroit still has to fix major problems, including crime, schools and broken infrastructure, said Baruah. “Even with the challenges today, businesses are investing. Imagine how much more business investment will come when we take care of these problems.”

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