We keep hearing the energy between now and what it was 10 years ago in this city is tremendous. We see through new projects, collaborations, and the evolution of the city’s long-standing cultural gems that it’s true. But how do we get the word out? How do we keep the momentum going?
We need talent and human capital. This is where Detroit Nation, a group of Detroit expats who are committed to Detroit’s revitalization, steps in. They were in Detroit this past weekend on a Discover the D tour talking with local Detroit leaders, business owners and entrepreneurs as well as taking tours of some of the city’s most dynamic centers for innovation and community building.
“Detroit is a city that has captured the imagination of the country in recent years, first for its decline, and now for its incredible amount of growth and potential,” said Rachel Jacobs, co-founder, Detroit Nation. “Detroit is increasingly being viewed as a microcosm of the country, and Discover the D is an exciting opportunity for native Detroiters living both locally and elsewhere to have an intimate conversation with the people who will drive Detroit forward.”
Detroit Nation members might live in Chicago, L.A., New York, or DC, but their hearts are tied to the Motor City. It’s a way for expats to help out their hometown, even if they’re settled in their new city. It’s also a way to network and create job opportunities for those interested in coming back.
“We saw a missed opportunity here,” says Jacobs. “There were hundreds of expats across the country who were passionate about Detroit.“
Although we’re starting to see a change in the way Detroit’s story is being told, there is work to be done.
“We were in New York saying ‘I wish I could do something about the badmouthing that goes on about Detroit,’” says Jeremy Litt, co-founder and chairman of Detroit Nation’s board. “The real Detroit doesn’t exist. People don’t hear about it. It’s a mythical dystopian land. In terms of positive things that go on, they’ve heard of maybe five.”
Detroit Nation gives us some great ambassadors to help combat this perception, but they reconnect and give back in many, many different ways.
Events in chapter cities that celebrate all-things Detroit are a favorite. They launched volunteer project with New Detroit that will serve eight grassroots non-profits. They also schedule visits back home to connect with the community. This past weekend was the group’s first home base meeting.
To help them gauge the progress Detroit has made since they left, the group took tours around old, familiar places: Heidelberg Project, Traffic Jam & Snug, Eastern Market, Russell Industrial Center… and visited new sites too, like Hostel Detroit and Blackstone Launchpad in Wayne State’s Undergraduate Library.
It’s clear from the tours that there’s enough here to draw people back… but sometimes there’s enough to hook them in the first place. Rachel Perschetz got a free plane ticket and chose to fly to Detroit “because I thought I’d never pay for it,” she says. Then she kept coming back. Fast forward a bit later and she’s currently a Southwest Housing Solutions fellow… who has grown to love Detroit’s quirks.
“It’s like a small community in a big town, which is great personally and professionally,” Perschetz says. “There are drawbacks, but I’m willing to sacrifice a few sushi restaurants to be able to walk to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and get front row seats on a Friday night. You can’t get that in New York or San Francisco.”
Detroit Nation has some ambitious plans for the future too. They’re considering launching a professional exchange program to connect professionals between Detroit and other cities. A fellowship program might also be in the works to bring Detroit expats back home to network with, teach, and learn from others in their field.
“All hands are on deck in Detroit,” says Stephen Henderson, opinion editor for the Detroit Free Press, who spoke to the group during their meetings. “But there aren’t enough people here prepared or dedicated enough for us to do it ourselves.”