In the last few years, I’ve heard a lot about how Detroit is fast becoming the ‘Tech Hub of the Midwest.’ While it’s nice that people are taking notice, it’s sort of old news. Like century-old news. Since the late 1800s, Detroit has been at the forefront of innovation and the city still boasts a thriving manufacturing sector.
You see, we are the original masters of gizmos, the earliest makers of doodads—the first tech hub of America.
– Then –
You know the story; Detroit is the Motor City because it did it more to make the automobile accessible to people around the world than anybody else. Guys with names like Ford, Durant, and Chrysler, somehow all converged on this single location, at the same time, and spearheaded growth of the greatest technological innovation the world had ever seen.
Also, do you take drugs? Seriously, have you ever taken over the counter medication or had a prescription filled? Well in 1866, Parke-Davis Pharmaceutical Company was formed in Detroit and pioneered the standardization of medications which, along with more sanitary living conditions, has doubled our life expectancy.
And the list of innovations goes on, and on.
– Now –
But what about today? I mean, a city that saw its population decrease substantially over 70 years can’t still be coming up with major technological advancements. Well, it can, and we are.
First off, our car guys (remember them?) are still here, and they are recommitting to the city in big ways. Currently, Ford Motor Company is investing three-quarters of a billion dollars to create a ‘Future of Transportation’ campus in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood, General Motors is investing $2.2 billion to retool an antiquated assembly plant for all-electric vehicle production at Factory ZERO, and Chrysler (aka Stellantis North America) is spending $2.5 billion to retool an idle plant and update an existing one for increased production.
So yes, we are still the Motor City; that’s not going anywhere.
As for non-Motor City innovations? Well, entrepreneurial support organizations (ESOs) and venture capitalists (VCs), like Detroit Venture Partners (which is somehow both) are going all in on big-idea entrepreneurs like an episode out of Silicon Valley. On Woodward Avenue alone, computer technology has taken such a strong foothold that they’ve started calling the street ‘Webward.’ Companies like StockX, Gas Station TV (GSTV), Xenith, and Benzinga—all boast headquarters on Woodward within four blocks of each other.
And that’s just what Detroit natives are doing. Three of the Four Horsemen companies— Google, Apple, and Amazon— have also either launched serious operations in Detroit or are making sizable investments in the city’s technical education.
– Tomorrow –
Ok, that was now, this is then, but what about tomorrow? Well that all depends on you. Who knows, maybe when you get here you can turn your big idea into a company that exists for over a century, is known across the globe, or both.
Jeff Brown is the Business Program Manager for Opportunity Detroit. Ann Arbor raised and East Lansing educated, Jeff has lived in Detroit since 2013. Follow @motownjeffbrown for his Motor City exposés and digital shorts.