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What To Give Detroit For Its 309th Birthday?

I visited the Detroit Historical Museum today, to celebrate 309 years of Detroit. Sure, it’s an inauspicious odd number, but think about how much has happened since 1701. For instance, we’ve changed countries multiple times since then (Detroit was originally French).

Wandering through the exhibits (if you want a review of the place, look for another blog, this writer is too hopelessly biased because I’ve been going since I was a kid) there was a theme – and although I knew it logically before, the reality set in.

We’ve been here before. And we can build a diverse economy. In some ways, we’ve always had one.

Here are some industries you may or may not know about, and part of the diverse economy we had:

Shipbuilding. Cigar making. Stoves. Pharmaceuticals. Beer. Railroad cars.

Automobiles happened here because we had the skills from things like making stoves to put to use matched with tinkerers (we’ve got tinkerers, and more popping up regularly). Today, a lot of the new technology initiatives happening are companies adapting their car-making past into the future for uses like windmills and aerospace.

We’ve historically had an entrepreneurial spirit. Henry Ford got started in a garage – so it makes sense to me that we shouldn’t be surprised of such entrepreneurship today, with companies such as Livio Radio, GSTV, EcoMotors and many others already here breaking out of the garage, getting funding, and happening – companies, that frankly, could be located anywhere.

Oh, and Henry Ford was a proponent of urban farming, too. So it shouldn’t surprise folks that’s one of many ideas that will be part of Detroit in the future.

The rumors of the death of the Detroit auto industry are also false – Ford is making a profit, GM is roaring back and Chrysler is moving forward.

Wayne State is doing some innovative things with bioscience and energy (not forgetting the new Oakland University med school or Medical Main Street); TechTown and Automation Alley are opening the doors to international investment through their programs.

Let’s not forget music. And lots of it. We were the home of Motown (in my mind, will always be – the soul of that sound is here); our Hard Rock downtown has walls littered with memorabilia from big name acts throughout time, not to mention the oft-cited Eminem and Kid Rock of today. We also have the largest country music event in the nation in the hoedown.

Our indie scene is alive and well, and we can’t forget the international impact electronic and techno have made.  By the way – another region, San Francisco – was known for it’s music way before there was a Silicon Valley nearby. In some ways, it was part of the creative genesis of some of the brightest companies ever (Apple founder Steve Jobs’ main possession for awhile, before he owned a couch, was a giant hi-fi system for a reason).

However, we’re told by whomever that we can’t. And there’s something to perception. People, when told things are a certain way, that something is horrible, downtrodden, or bad, studies show they tend to be colored by that information (not just about Detroit but just about everything). That’s why it is important to get the complete story of Detroit out. We know you want to hear it, and share it. We know the thousands of people (thank you!) who read these words are affecting change from Midtown to Madison Heights to Milford. And the media, who take the time to stop by, we appreciate you giving us the opportunity to show the real region. A city with challenges, but also a city with love, hope, forgiveness, passion, creativity, work ethic, and more.

So the birthday gift we all could give Detroit – and in some ways, ourselves – is to share the experiences that have had an impact and why you’re here with someone else. Someone who maybe doesn’t expect it. Or someone who has given up. I know from personal experience that sometimes it takes a little encouragement to keep in love with the D; and some come to love it later on.

So let us bring people into the fold by telling the real Detroit story. Outreach, whether they’re here or not. Mend fences. Put the words of division behind. Tell the story, and as our growing social media community says, “if you’ve got it, share it.”

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