By Emily Wang '15
In investing, we are taught to take a contrarian view. Yet, when I see classmates flocking to the coasts after graduation, I wonder whether this concept should also apply to careers. Instead of being among thousands of newly minted MBAs following prescribed career paths in cities like New York or San Francisco, what if we forged our own paths in post-industrial cities like Detroit?
These days, reactions to Detroit range from utter confusion (“What the heck is in Detroit?”) to grave concern (“Aren’t you going to get shot?”). Those familiar with recent news coverage will smile knowingly, as if they’re in on the secret about Detroit’s comeback. But there is more to the story than watching gentrification unfold one hipster coffee shop at a time. Detroit can be an amazing playground for the right kind of entrepreneurial spirit.
For instance, if Detroit isn’t every aspiring real estate investor’s dream, it should be. Historic buildings are being snapped up by the likes of billionaire Dan Gilbert, who has bought over 70 buildings in Detroit and invested over $2B in renovations. The abandoned Packard Plant, a massive 3.5 million square foot factory often featured in “ruin porn” photography, was recently purchased by a Spanish developer who plans to turn it into residential and retail space. Chinese investors have closed in on Detroit, too, outbidding Gilbert on a few of the properties downtown. This influx of investment is invariably accompanied by a need for talent.
If real estate is not your thing, what about technology? Despite media depictions of the domestic automotive industry, Detroit is still a hotbed of engineering and design talent. Silicon Valley alone cannot take us all the way to driverless, connected vehicles. The auto and tech industries must work together and this rapidly evolving landscape is sure to yield fascinating opportunities. Finally, what about creating innovative consumer products and building lasting brands? Recently, the “built in Detroit” idea has achieved a certain degree of cache, as brands like Shinola, a watch and accessory manufacturer, seek to bring back the quality and craftsmanship that marked Detroit’s early days as a manufacturing city.
Career opportunities aside, what about the lifestyle? I can’t argue that Detroit is comparable to New York or San Francisco, but there is always something incredibly cool to do, whether it is having dinner on an urban farm or enjoying live jazz at Cliff Bell’s. Also, imagine buying a house for $200,000, renovating it and selling it for $400,000 a year later. On an intangible level, the passion and level of engagement among the city’s small but growing contingent of young professionals is unparalleled - after all, they came to Detroit to make an impact, and they stayed because they found a way to do so.
Full disclosure: Emily Wang is moving to San Francisco after graduation, but plans to return to Detroit after recovering from cold weather.