24 Hours in Detroit
A Learning Journey of Reinvestment in Public Spaces & Entrepreneurship
By Brad Little & Alison Gerardot
At the end of August, we were part of another fantastic inter-city site visit sponsored by Greater Fort Wayne Inc., Issue Media Group, publisher of online digital newsletter Input Fort Wayne and Model D in Detroit, and JP Morgan Chase.
This time it was an action packed 24 hours in Detroit focused primarily on entrepreneurialism. And did we learn a lot. By “we” I mean the Fort Wayne delegation of 24 or so of us including CFGFW board member Trois Hart and fellow staff member Alison Gerardot, Director of Philanthropic Services. In Detroit we were joined by representatives from two Michigan based community foundations – the Community Foundation of St. Clair County (Port Huron) and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. Our tour guide was a dynamic entrepreneur herself – Jeanette Pierce and her team from Detroit Experience Factory. Her knowledge, passion and enthusiasm for Detroit made the tour personal and extra special.
I’ll admit upfront that I was skeptical of what we could possibly learn from a city that holds the record for the largest municipal bankruptcy in history. I also humbly admit that there is A LOT to learn from Detroit as they welcomed us with open arms, hospitality and a genuine, heartfelt spirit of “how can we help Fort Wayne with what we’ve learned here”. They were also quick to acknowledge that they still have a long way to go; but make no mistake, Detroit is on the move.
The Detroit Riverfront Phase I
Alison and Brad inside the renovated Guardian Building in Downtown Detroit
In a little more than 24 hours we:
- Toured most of downtown Detroit including a couple of beautifully renovated buildings.
- Heard presentations by Pam Lewis the director of the New Economy Initiative and James Feagin the project lead for the Mayor’s Motor City Match
- Toured a couple of nearby neighborhoods with positive momentum including a stop at a minority owned bakery – Good Cakes & Bakes – where we met the owner who shared her entrepreneurial journey (she was a former banker) and “graduate” of Tech Town and the Build Institute (see below);
- At the bakery, we met Mike Smith, Vice President of Neighborhood Strategies with Invest Detroit an investment group that makes significant investments in neighborhoods on the verge of a breakthrough.
- A walking tour of their riverfront development project with Detroit Riverfront Conservancy director Marc Pasco.
- Visited 3 entrepreneurial centers – Tech Town, Pony Ride and Eastern Market. And while all three were entrepreneurial in spirit, each space was very unique.
For Alison and I, there were five specific takeaways from the trip that were both inspirational and aspirational:
- Nothing moves forward in Detroit without CONNECTION and COLLABORATION. It was clear from everyone that we spoke to – people were open to connecting others to the resources and influencers they might need to be successful in their own ventures. There was a true spirit of helping others, which means breaking down silos to help accomplish collective goals.
- The importance of SOCIAL CAPITAL. Social capital is traditionally defined as connections, based on trust, among diverse people or groups that enhance cooperation for mutual benefit. This was evident in Detroit (see connection and collaboration above). It was important that others were openly sharing their personal networks with others to help each other succeed. This also strengthened the notion of “neighborhood” – everyone spoke passionately and with conviction about the importance of being part of a neighborhood.
- The need for cohesive STRATEGY and VISION. Due to the Detroit bankruptcy, everyone in the city was forced to band together for a common vision to recreate their community. They have leveraged their ‘tough like Detroit’ and ‘made in America’ brand and filtered that vision down to their core of entrepreneurship. Detroit isn’t waiting for someone to save them – they are creating it themselves, by nurturing the talent that they have and succeeding from the inside out.
- It takes WORK. It takes work, sweat equity and time to create relationships with both national and international foundations. It takes work and time to rebuild and strategize what you want to be when you grow up. But putting in the work pays off in dividends when everyone works together for a common goal of a better community.
- The importance of INVESTMENT in NEIGHBORHOODS. This, too, speaks to the importance of growing talent right where it is and ensuring that everyone, equally, has access to everything they need to be as successful as possible.
After our tour and during our drive back to Fort Wayne, I was reminded of one of Peter Drucker’s famous quotes: The best way to predict the future is to create it. Detroit has decided what they want their future to look like. Entrepreneurial, diverse and inclusive. I especially liked their new brand: “Detroit is big enough to matter in the world and small enough for you to matter in it”.
I’m pleased to report that since this trip, the group has already reconvened to discuss personal takeaways and some potential next steps. What I’m most excited about is the fact that we all agree on one common theme – our local “entrepreneurial ecosystem” is far short of where we need it to be. I also sense a feeling that this visit on the heels of the Greenville trip might be a tipping point. The group agreed it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work identifying some common ground, goals and initiatives that we can all work on together in a collaborative, entrepreneurial sort of way. Working to create a shared vision of all that Fort Wayne can be and become.
CFGFW Board Member Trois Hart & VP of Philanthropic Services Alison Gerardot in Tech Town
“Flyboy” mural by Hebru Brantley outside of Eastern Market