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Good News from an Unlikely Place

Summer Postcards

DETROIT, Mich.—Excitement is high around the city this summer, as millions of dollars of investment pour into what is shaping up to be a burgeoning high-tech corridor. Access to world-class universities, venture funding, a strong entrepreneurial spirit, and cheap real estate are drawing talented, young people downtown. Momentum is such that Forbes recently named the city as one of the best places for entrepreneurs. All good news from an unlikely place: Detroit. At a time of bitter debt talks and cries of a failed recovery, Detroit and other parts of Michigan are showing signs of hope.

New governor Rick Snyder, a former computer executive and venture capitalist, has been working to reform state government at a blistering pace. Signing a balanced budget, enacting greater state control over financially distressed municipalities, and placing a strong emphasis on fostering transparency and accountability in state government, Snyder is changing the way that the state does business. Though highly controversial, he has brought dramatic changes to Lansing at a faster rate than anyone in recent memory.

In 2008, after the crash and subsequent government auto-bailout, many across the country began giving up on the state of Michigan. A mainstay on the FBI’s list of the most dangerous cities, Detroit in particular has inspired many late-night TV jokes and born much negative publicity. As G.M. filed for bankruptcy and global demand took a dive, many automotive suppliers found themselves out of business.

Three years later, the resurgent Big Three (General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford) and their suppliers have regrouped and become lean and agile. G.M., for example, is now hiring less experienced employees at considerably reduced costs and is exploring new models of profit sharing with workers instead of guaranteeing fixed automatic yearly salary increases. Having realized that they can’t afford to be so dependent on the local automotive industry, suppliers have taken a global perspective of their businesses. Now, even the smaller manufacturing and engineering services firms compete for auto business everywhere from Rio to Beijing. More importantly, some of them are capitalizing on their technology to enter new verticals like aerospace and energy.

Meanwhile, other Michiganders are trying their hand at new ventures across the state, including movie making, renewable energy, and tourism. With some of the most generous film tax credits in the nation, a number of films have been shot in Michigan in the past few years. The "Pure Michigan" campaign has been very successful in boosting tourism in the Great Lakes State, particularly by advertising its greatest natural resource—the largest group of freshwater lakes on earth.

Granted there are still serious problems here. Unemployment hovers over the national average; homes remain indefinitely on sale; and many are still looking to leave the state. But innovation in both the private and public sector, coupled with the palpable passion and excitement we both feel here, could once again make Michigan a key player in the national economy.

Hemi H. Gandhi ’13, an editorial writer, is an Engineering Sciences concentrator in Leverett House. Eric R. Smith ’13 is a Government concentrator in Currier House.

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