Michigan: Detroit and Ann Arbor Emerging as Tech Towns

I spent most of my last week in the Midwest taking a market tour of Detroit and speaking at my alma mater, The University of Michigan. I was completely energized by my trip to Michigan after 10 years.  It is one thing to read about the economic resurgence happening in the area but it was another to experience it firsthand.

The Cube at University of Michigan

The Cube at University of Michigan

In their book, “The Smartest Places on Earth,” co-authors Agtmael and Bakker assert that a handful of global cities like Detroit are transitioning from “rustbelts” to “brainbelts.” These locales, most of which are anchored by world-class universities, boast a cohort of innovative, young entrepreneurs who are attracted by affordable living, a burgeoning cultural scene, and the opportunity to collaboratively solve 21st-century problems. I definitely found this to be the environment in greater Detroit – one aptly expressed by a local clothier’s slogan, “Detroit Hustles Harder.”

I was especially intrigued to learn more about how Ann Arbor (Detroit suburb and UM’s hometown) has grown into a formidable tech hub. This makes intuitive sense. Michigan and nearby universities mint thousands of eager young graduates every year and the city has recently taken steps to retain them and support their endeavors. This includes efforts by organizations like Ann Arbor New Tech Meetup, Tech Brewery, Ignite Ann Arbor and A2Geeks. These investments have paid off yielding companies like Mobiata (now an Expedia company), the more fledgling Clinc and even new publications dedicated to reporting on the region’s start-up culture. And of course, where there is tech-generated income, new retail businesses emerge. I was delighted to encounter a mix of classics, like Zingerman’s Deli, and thriving new businesses, like Today and The Session Room, in Ann Arbor’s tree-lined downtown district.

I return to Texas invigorated and eagerly anticipating the next innovations to come out of this bustling Midwestern brainbelt. And I am hoping this serves as a road map to revitalizing towns that had suffered the loss of manufacturing jobs over the last decade.