Thursday, May 05, 2011

5 Guys Who Are Raising Detroit From The Dead

Detroit's 5 Guys
  • What You Need To Know
  • There is no future for one-industry towns in America.
  • If you don't like the way your city is run, do something about it yourself.
  • Detroit might be a troubled city, but it's also a blank slate for entrepreneurs.
"That unemployed autoworker who secretly dreamed of being a barber? Guess what? He’s at barber school right now."
In 2009, Detroit’s unemployment rate hovered just below a staggering 50%. Rush hour literally disappeared. A mass exodus of young professionals commenced, but those who stayed are embracing their possibilities with verve -- a stance that is not as unlikely as it sounds. In 2010, then-governor Jennifer Granholm approved a bill allowing generous tax credits to film production companies. Film production swelled in Detroit, putting the unemployed to work as extras, caterers, set builders, etc. This year, General Motors is launching its electric vehicle, the Volt, and shuttered auto plants are slowly reintroducing new work shifts. One four-star chef left his executive chef gig in Vegas to open a taco truck in Detroit.

One 25-year-old entrepreneur opened a hostel in one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods in a building that was nothing but an eyesore for decades. A hostel. In Detroit.

That unemployed autoworker who secretly dreamed of being a barber? Guess what? He’s at barber school right now.

Empty lots are being converted to urban gardens. Lines for bicycle lanes are being painted on city streets.

These five guys are not only bringing Detroit back to life, but they're inspiring those around them to do the same.


Mike Ilitch

The billionaire pizza magnate and owner of both the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers has been a Detroit guy his entire life -- and his support for the city is not just measured in the many millions he has spent. He took a dead hockey team and converted it to a Stanley Cup-winning powerhouse (2011 marked the 20th straight playoff appearance for the team), and he spent dearly to bring a Major League Baseball team back to life and make it a contender. He built a beautiful baseball stadium downtown and will soon be doing the same for the hockey club. This is one owner who won’t move teams and operations to the suburbs.


John Carlisle

Through his blog, this veteran Detroit journalist has single-handedly rearranged the way newspapers and magazines in Detroit cover the city. started as a chronicle of abandoned buildings in the city and later moved to a storytelling format showcasing the lives of Detroiters to which most people would never be privy. He scours the city weekly and has written about unfamiliar Civil Rights leaders, community groups doing tireless work, social clubs you didn’t know existed and a guy who runs a strip club out of his home. The daily newspapers never touched stories like this until Carlisle posted them.


Phil Cooley

This former Louis Vuitton model moved to Detroit and opened the most talked-about restaurant in town, Slows BBQ. A once-empty eyesore of a building on Michigan Avenue has been converted to an exposed brick, craft-brew-on-tap, high-quality barbecue joint. But Cooley's spot represents more than just good food and entrepreneurship; it's quickly becoming a symbol of the new Detroit. Slows BBQ has become the go-to spot where residents take their visitors and where out-of-towners on business are proudly guided by locals.

"Detroit’s economic survival relies on sustainability -- the city has learned that you can’t suckle at the automotive teat forever".

Andy Didorosi

Detroit’s economic survival relies on sustainability. The city has learned that you can’t suckle at the automotive teat forever. Andy Didorosi owns and operates Paper Street, a small business incubator that he opened in an empty warehouse, where he rents affordable office and work space to people who want to test out their entrepreneurial legs. Sick of your dead-end job? Andy will rent you proper space at an affordable price for you to try striking out on your own. Paper Street’s diverse lineup includes designers, artists, mead makers, and mechanics. The atmosphere at Paper Street is electric and focused on success -- but in a fun way. Detroit can’t rely on one industry. Didorosi is helping to start and foster several others under one roof.


Tom Nardone

This suburban businessman was fed up with the sad, unsightly state of city parks in Detroit, many of which were just overgrown, vacant areas that hadn’t seen a city employee in years. So Nardone started the Mower Gang. The growing group gathers on select Saturdays (aka their days off) to haul their own lawn mowers and weed trimmers to a designated Detroit park for a full-on landscaping assault. What was once a dump is now clean again. Recently, the Gang identified 111 swing sets in the city that were missing swings, and they are now raising money to replace the swings themselves. The group is open to anyone who wants to join. Find out on Facebook where they’ll be next, and simply show up with a mower and some gloves. This is the kind of gang leader Detroit needs more of.

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