Detroit’s Emergence in the Technology Space

I saw Detroit’s potential future in the tech industry based on what I encountered…in San Francisco.

Yes, San Francisco.

While visiting my son there recently, I envisioned Detroit as an emerging technology and mobility hub attracting talent from across this region and country.

And before you jump to any conclusions, let me explain.

I have been visiting SF for over thirty years and to see “The City’s” (as its locally called) transformation has been significant.

And if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I have been tracking the trials, tribulations Nd successes of Brian Clark, a native Detroiter and U-M alumna, who moved there five years ago to pursue his entrepreneurial journey in Silicon Valley.

He’s still there.

To a visitor from the Motor City, SF was been long known for its Golden Gate Bridge, trolley cars, steep hills, the idyllic ocean side views and the backdrop for many TV shows and movies.

But now, as part of Silicon Valley, it’s known as a technology hub that’s become a magnet for young people, engineers, entrepreneurs and innovators.

Upon my arrival, I walked around the downtown-area and felt the energy and its vibe and thought of Detroit’s burgeoning downtown with its enhanced and renewed vibrancy. I also thought about our city’s potential and ever-expanding presence in the tech space.

My son, who relocated to SF with his wife from Chicago, explained to me why so many young people are migrating from primarily the East Coast and parts of the Midwest.  He also reminded me the financial resources and tech companies flowing into San Francisco were key reasons for attracting young people with diverse backgrounds.

And as I walked around downtown, it felt like I was surrounded by a number of recent college graduates working in the shadows of San Fransciso’s historical downtown buildings.  I also saw technology-based companies sprinkled throughout its core. Not just along small swaths of downtown, but throughout a good portion of the city.

This influx of people has driven housing prices while increasing the region’s overall cost of living and housing to significant levels.  For example, I talked extensively to an engineer-turned-entrepreneur regarding his housing situation. He currently shares a two-bedroom, 900-square foot apartment for $5600 per month with three other business owners. He simply stated he has no desire to move and is willing to stay because he’s an engineer and believes having accessibility to these types of opportunities are essential for business longevity.

These costs, however, are driving some to live across the Bay in neighboring Oakland and other surrounding areas.

Regardless, I was amazed by its energy, continued growth and thought about how San Fransciso can be an example for Detroit as our city continues to redefine itself for the future.

To wit, there’s been much talk about our city becoming more of a an economically-diverse city. While going down this path, Detroit continues to grapple with its historical political, racial and regional divide.

While progress has been made, Detroit’s future, with manufacturing its core legacy, is tied to economic diversity, technology/mobility sectors and a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Yes, entrepreneurship can and will have a significant role in supporting and driving the next economy across this massive metropolis.

While some might suggest its growth has come at the expense of others, San Franciso’s expansion into the technology sector has become an integral part of its local economy.  However, it continues to attract those looking for personal and professional growth and has provided opportunities for as part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

And historical buildings have been transformed into new life and filled with the next generation of innovators and creativity.

This is, in my opinion, the road where Detroit appears to be traveling.

Are we there yet?

No, but slow progress is being made and challenges still confront our fragile neighborhoods.

But as I see and hear stories about Woodward Avenue’s continuing reemergence, enhanced talk about Corktown potentially becoming a tech-based hub and the automotive industry continuing to align itself in the mobility space, I thought about it in the context of San Francisco.  For example, think about the number of high-paying jobs will have on attracting and retaining talent while improving the city’s financial status.

As a native, I have seen the cyclical nature of the automotive industry. However, as Detroit continues to evolve, it’s great to see the slow awakening of this sleeping giant, but it will be even greater to watch the city stretch its arms again, raise its head and…

…roar again!