Talent-Driven Detroit: How the Motor City Is Getting Her Groove Back

Co-authored with Michelle Elder

It's a new day in Detroit and there is much excitement by many for Detroit's economic recovery, entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship boom, technology revolution, and the surge of creativity charging the city. The jobs are back -- and new kinds of jobs are flourishing, the real estate market breathes signs of life and young professionals are moving into downtown.

Rust-belt cities like Detroit have been plagued by "brain drain" for a long time. But today, Detroit is reinventing into a version 2.0. The last two decades have seen a rebirth of urban neighborhoods. They have largely been revitalized by a combination of immigrants and college educated households -- mainly young and without children. The city's rich history of innovation and passionate young, smart people are building Detroit's new future. Attracting and retaining college graduates ensures a pipeline of degreed talent for the region's employers, creates the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs, and further promotes this region as an attractive place for industry. For southeast Michigan and the state, the success of downtown Detroit is essential to the future of our state's economic prosperity.

This past July the U.S. Census Bureau released new population data that showed faster growth rates in city centers than in suburban areas for 27 of the 51 largest metro areas in the United States between July 2010 and July 2011. A 2011 New York Times article states:

"Recent census figures show that Detroit's overall population shrank by 25 percent in the last 10 years. But during the same time period, downtown Detroit experienced a 59 percent increase in the number of college-educated residents under the age of 35, nearly 30 percent more than two-thirds of the nation's 51 largest cities."

Detroit's future may be determined by its ability to attract, develop, and retain, the best and the brightest to the region and the stakes couldn't be higher in competing for this next generation of highly-mobile talent in a global economy.

A number of regional efforts and public-private-nonprofit partnerships that have formed focusing on talent exemplify the spirit of collaboration in metro-Detroit. There are many developing a pipeline of qualified workforce and attracting young talent to support the growth of Detroit's knowledge-based economy, including Detroit Drives Degrees (D3) Talent Dividend initiative. This effort, led by the Detroit Regional Chamber, Workforce Intelligence Network, Michigan College Access Network, Achieving the Dream, Project Win Win, Intern In Michigan, and Global Talent Retention Initiative seeks to significantly raise the number of individuals with a post-secondary degree and/or credential.

Additionally the 15x15 project, supported by the Midtown Association and local foundations, is a coordinated effort to bring 15,000 young educated people to live in Midtown Detroit by the year 2015. The program provides incentives such as loans for new homeowners and assistance to new renters.

Live Downtown is an innovative residential program that offers four incentive options to help employees of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Compuware, DTE Energy, Marketing Associates, Quicken Loans or Strategic Staffing Solutions, purchase or rent a home in one of the neighborhoods in and near Downtown Detroit: Downtown, Corktown, Lafayette Park, Eastern Market, Woodbridge and the Midtown areas of Brush Park, Cass Park, Art Center, and Lower Cass.

And LiveWorkDetroit! a Talent Enhancement initiative of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, aims to connect Michigan's college graduates to new opportunities in Detroit and promote the city as post-graduation talent destination. By providing day-long immersion events where college students, graduates, and new professionals learn the best (and often little known) reasons to live, work, and play, the program provides participants an opportunity to meet industry and community leaders and other young professionals, network with hiring employers, and tour iconic landmarks, affordable apartments, and trendy nightspots.

LiveWorkDetroit!'s success suggests a genuine interest and curiosity about Detroit from the Millennials: the initiative brought together over 2,300 college students and graduates since March 2011. An overwhelming majority (74 percent) of the people who participated indicated they have increased desire to live and work in downtown Detroit .

The Motor City has long held a reputation as a playground for urban farmers, social entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs, and artists to realize their dreams and as new young professionals are choosing to move back into the city, Detroit seems well on its way to getting its groove back.

Michelle Elder is a Program Manager for Talent Enhancement at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and focuses on retaining and attracting college graduates to Detroit. Elder is a graduate of the University of Michigan with a B.S. in Architecture and master degrees in Urban Planning and Real Estate Development.

Noël Harmon currently leads the National Talent Dividend initiative, one of the signature programs of CEOs for Cities, to foster success among network cities to increase the post-secondary attainment among their residents. In that role she directs the National Talent Dividend Prize competition and the National Talent Dividend Network.

Harmon previously served as a senior research analyst at the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) where she worked with minority-serving institutions on initiatives such as the Walmart Minority Student Success Initiative, Lumina Foundation Models of Success, TG and National College Access Network Supporting Best Practices in Student Success, and the IHEP Summer Academy.