Detroit: The City of Opportunity for the Class of 2014

Published: Feb 06, 2014

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Today, the New York Times published an op-ed entitled “Detroit’s Immigration Solution,” which criticizes the plan that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has to fix the down-but-not-out Motor City. Snyder has proposed “to attract 50,000 [immigrants] over five years using a visa program for people with advanced degrees or exceptional abilities in the sciences, arts or business.” According to the Times, the plan is “strange,” “unsettling” “oddly defeatist,” and “limited,” “reinforc[ing] the misguided belief that highly skilled immigrants are the only ones worth the trouble.”

Indeed, what about the millions of skilled (or, at least, highly educated) new college graduates that will hit the job market this May? Might there be some room to create incentives to attract them to the city as well?

Even if not, I’d argue that Detroit is already a city that students should consider relocating to upon graduation. Although Detroit isn’t for the risk-averse graduate, or for the squeamish, or for those who insist on amenities like streetlights that work and un-boarded-up delis on every corner, it’s a city that, despite what scores of ruin-porn photos and ski videos circling the internet might imply, currently has a lot to offer. And here are a few reasons why you should give the area south of 8 Mile your serious consideration:

1. There’s a new car man in town and she’s a woman.
When Mary Barra was named GM CEO at the end of 2013, it signaled a monumental shift not only at one of the largest car companies in the world but also across the automotive industry, which has been historically dominated by men. Barra, who today spoke on her first earnings call, is a native Michigander who worked her way up through the ranks at GM and who has paved the way for other women looking to rise the automotive executive ladder. GM, along with Ford and Chrysler (now Fiat Chrysler), have been largely enjoying a prosperous time after many years of struggling. Which means they’re hiring at every level from intern to executive. Also of note: although the so-called Big Three U.S. automakers get all the press in Detroit, there are numerous other firms in Metro Detroit directly related to and/or that serve the automakers, and these companies also require skilled labor. Some of these include auto part manufacturers, auto finance firms, the Big 4 accounting firms (all of which have major offices in the area), and numerous advertising firms (responsible for many of those ads you see during the first, second, and third quarters of the Super Bowl).

2. It's cool to be from Detroit.
Tell someone you’re from or live in Detroit and they might feel sorry for you. But they will also be impressed. Yes, Detroit has cachet, and living there will give you street cred. And so, if you ever decide to leave the city and apply for jobs at companies in larger, more established, more financially stable cities, you’ll be able to position yourself as a risk taker, someone willing to stand up for the underdog, someone unafraid to go against the norm, not to mention someone unafraid of living in the so-called murder capital of the world. Also, you will be able to position yourself as someone who did something cool. Here’s Tim Smith, the president and CEO of Detroit-based Skidmore Studio, “a design and branding firm that started with auto illustrations in the late 1950s and has grown to a full service creative agency,” speaking to Fast Company last year:

Smith remembers a time when he’d fly out to meetings with clients in other cities and they’d say, “Oh, you’re from Detroit. We feel so bad for you.” Now, he says, “We get off the plane and go 'We’re from Detroit,’ and they say, 'That’s kinda cool.’”

3. Anything goes in Detroit.
There’s a reason that artists and young entrepreneurs across the country as well as the world have been relocating to Detroit the past few years. Okay, at least two reasons. One is the cheap real estate (yes, it’s true you can become a homeowner for about the price of one month’s rent of a two-bedroom in Brooklyn Heights). The second is the barriers to entry as far as startups go are relatively few. Detroit is basically begging entrepreneurs to start businesses in the city. According to Ralph Watson—an executive creative director at Goodby Silverstein, an ad agency in Detroit of about 300 employees that counts Chevrolet as one of its accounts—who also spoke to Fast Company last year, “[Detroit is] startupville. It’s anything goes, which I really like. It’s almost no rules.” (For a sense of the breadth of the city’s entrepreneurs, check out these businesses: Detroit Bus Company, Loveland Technologies, Slows Bar BQ, and MowerGang.)

4. The CEO of the fifth best U.S. company to work for will pay you to live in Detroit.
There’s been a lot written about Dan Gilbert’s Quicken Loans, which ranked No. 5 in Fortune’s 2014 Best Companies to Work For list. Gilbert, who was born in Detroit, and his Detroit-based mortgage company have helped the Motor City immensely in recent years. One way has been Gilbert moving his headquarters to Detroit in 2011. Another has been offering a financial incentive to employees who choose to live within the Detroit city limits. Both moves have improved the city’s tax base and brought much-needed business to the city. Overall, Gilbert has put more than $1 billion into Detroit. And Quicken Loans continues to grow. At last count, there were more than 1,200 job openings at the firm. And according to Fortune, this is “what makes it so great”:

The mortgage lender is intent on reversing brain drain from Michigan. A recent job fair in downtown Detroit attracted 2,500 applicants for 500 jobs. It also partnered with area businesses to offer incentives to employees willing to move to the city, including $20,000 in forgivable home loans.

5. Detroit is beautiful.
That’s right. And if you don’t believe me, check out this instagrammer, whose documentation of the city is not to be un-followed.

Follow me @VaultFinance.

Read More:
Detroit’s Immigrant Solution (NYT)
How a Young Community of Entrepreneurs Is Rebuilding Detroit (Fast Company)
From Intern to CEO: How Mary Barra Named GM’s First Female Chief (Vault)
Destination Detroit: Finance Jobs in the 313 (Vault)