While it’s becoming old news that Detroit has resurged as a locale for business investment and development, the city’s role in Michigan and the region is still growing.
From innovation in the mobility industry to improving the landscape for new entrepreneurs, the community’s momentum has accelerated.
Support for Detroit’s business infrastructure comes from an ally in the state capitol. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) has an eye toward lifting the city’s visibility as a place for job creation and commerce.
“It’s really about making sure we’re building a strong startup culture in Michigan … and building the next stage of innovation for the next generation,” says Josh Hundt, MEDC chief development officer and executive vice president.
MEDC is involved “every step of the way” in supporting everything from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies in Detroit, Hundt says.
Through the State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) program’s initiative to strengthening of small and medium-sized businesses, MEDC has helped generate $2 billion. Funded in part by the Small Business Administration, STEP is a three-year grant for pilot trade and export to create matching-fund grants with the goal of helping businesses succeed in the international marketplace.
Trade and export in a city long known for its manufacturing initiatives and workforce is no longer limited to the traditional cars and trucks that gave Detroit its motor-inspired nickname of Motown, Hundt says. Mobility, broadly defined as technologies and services that enable passengers and goods to travel more freely, is a capstone of MEDC’s strategies for local urban development.
“The next generation of mobility and auto is partnerships and collaboration. Partnerships are key,” says Hundt, adding that MEDC helps facilitate business partnerships.
One of Detroit’s most recent, significant developments concerning mobility initiatives was announced in June with the plans for Ford Motor Co. to convert the landmark, long-vacant Michigan Central Station into a technology campus. Ford has reportedly begun relocating staff from its electric and self-driving vehicle divisions to a site near the station.
Similar Detroit-based efforts, like the MEDC- and Detroit Regional Chamber-supported PlanetM Landing Zone, a co-working space described as “a physical entry point for global mobility startups,” represent another stake in the industry.
Trade and export initiatives include MEDC’s Pure Michigan Business Connect program, a free service that brings small to medium-sized Michigan businesses together with local, national and global companies for supply chain sourcing opportunities. It forges partnerships and grows business by connecting them with PMBC or signing up for an upcoming matchmaking event.
Michigan’s core businesses include advanced manufacturing, aerospace, cyber security, agribusiness, defense, mobility, film and digital media and arts and cultural affairs, according to MEDC.
Along with stimulating burgeoning areas of industry and investment in Detroit, Flint and other cities, MEDC’s challenges include retaining, developing and attracting talent to Michigan – including 800,000 jobs in healthcare, skilled trades and other labor that will need a workforce in the next few years.
Strategies for recruitment will vary.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all on the talent attraction side,” says Hundt. “It’s also about developing the talent that’s still here.”
Michigan’s professional strength as the state with the largest number of engineers in the nation helps anchor much of the development, Hundt says.
Much of the state’s innovation is generated through its universities and technological institutes, he says, while other efforts are outgrowths of public-private partnerships.
One example is MICHauto, an economic initiative of the Detroit Regional Chamber devoted to strengthening the state’s auto industry. The undertaking is a platform for vehicle company stakeholders to collaborate about advocacy, talent retention and other goals.
“Michigan business champions” are needed to promote certificate programs and lifelong learning versus to add to the state’s general talent pool, Hundt says. In Hundt’s view, subscribing to the idea that traditional kindergarten through college education is the only path to career readiness limits opportunities.
Other areas of expanding industry Hundt cites include aerospace, cyber security and defense. In both Detroit and Flint retailers, including fashion entrepreneurs have also made their presence felt, Hundt says. But virtually any Michigan city with the right combination of inspiration and population has potential to contribute to the state’s economy, he adds.
“The fertile ground can be anywhere that somebody has a great idea.”