I Dreamt a Dream of Detroit

Amazon in DetroitI’ve been obsessing over the idea of Amazon’s second headquarters  (Amazon Plans Second Headquarters, Opening a Bidding War Among Cities) for the past few days. Of course, I’m focused on how it should be Detroit, Metro-Detroit and/or SE Michigan. I have an obsession with obsessing in general (I’m sorry Bryan), but in particular this idea kinda has me bonkers.

It’s not my first time at the rodeo. I’ve been fascinated with schemes and plans to improve Detroit my entire life. I would say that now I’m more personally and financially invested in the City’s success because I’m old, but that insane flame inside is “on fire, girl,” and I’ve got to let it out.

And while everyone seems focused on why Detroit would never land such a big deal (3 Reasons Detroit Won’t Get Amazon hq2), or even discluding our town from the discussion in general (These U.S. cities have the best chance of being Amazon’s second headquarters), I’m going to ignore it all.

IKEA’s Original Move To The Detroit Region

In early 2003 or 2004, the news was all abuzz about IKEA finally opening a store in Metro Detroit. Finally…sqweee! We wouldn’t have to drive to Chicago or Toronto to get irritated within the first 10 minutes of “the maze,” buy the obligatory kitchen utensil and get the hell out of there. We could do it here.

My true obsession with this news was with where, in SE Michigan, IKEA was planning to build its maze. And, frustratingly, they announced they were looking at Troy and Canton (where they ultimately built it). Ingvar Kamprad, the founder, had a “build it and they will come” philosophy. Buy the cheapest land, and no matter how far away from civilization or inconvenient the trek, people will come because Ikea is amazing. And it worked.

As Ikea grew, especially in North America, they began to target shopping centers. Cheap property around shopping centers. In Chicago they located near, but not attached to, the big Shaumberg mall. So… closer yes, maybe because they could afford the land.

The idea struck me in 2003 that, while the cheap land and destination model worked for every major metro area in the United States, it could be flipped in Detroit. With great effect. My thoughts went something like this:

1. The land in downtown Detroit was incredibly cheap then. Well before any boom (then bust), and certainly before today’s boom. 2. Downtown is central to all of the regions, and if people are willing to haul themselves en-masse to a lifeless strip mall 60 miles away from their homes, certainly they’d come 40 miles into the city and 3. LOOK AT THE AMOUNT OF CHANGE Ikea could make to a region, not just financially, but perceptionally for the lift. The gains would have been a bargain. The headlines write themselves. Yes!? Sqweee!?

So I wrote an impassioned, business-writing-class-edited letter to any Ikea official I could find, including Ingvar, with those basic ideas. I waited for months, imagining executives in Europe in trendy white offices thoughtfully pondering my genius and nodding their heads in unison, “Yaa, yaaa. Das goot, Yaa.” I’m not going to even tell you what actually happened because you know. sqwee.

Quicken Loans Investment Seems To Be Panning out Nicely

My husband, Bryan, just celebrated his 20th year with Quicken Loans and Dan Gilbert. Bryan and I have also been together for 20 years… so I haven’t known Bryan to work anywhere else. And the energy that is imbued into that organization by Dan Gilbert has always trickled down into our family.

So much so that since the early 2000’s I was obsessed with QL moving downtown. I even pestered Bryan to bring it up (email Dan)… which I think he did.

Bryan was part of the first wave to move from Livonia, and it was so exciting I volunteered to help him and his team unpack.

So, now we have 7 years of quantitative data that shows impact on the City in terms of dollars ($19B Here’s a look at Dan Gilbert’s multi-billion dollar impact on Detroit) and continues to grow (Dan Gilbert’s Impact On Detroit Just Keeps Growing). Qualitative data and perceptions include my personal observations of being a resident and downtown worker since 1996: “We’re on the cusp of something good…”

So what does this mean for Amazon? Well… I’d say in business terms, look to Dan Gilbert. Yes the impact on the community is good, but sit down and talk with him about how his business has grown because of his investment in Detroit. He’s still here… this means it’s good. Talk with Ally Bank, Fifth Third Bank, Shinola. Talk to my close friend Matt Clayson, who’s job it was for years at Detroit Creative Corridor Center to explain to companies, like Shinola, the monetary benefits of Detroit.

The bang for the investment buck for Amazon in Detroit would be 5-1 compared to any other location. This is a great deal, Mr. Bezos.

Another Billionaire? Todd you suck, sit down

Another close friend, Anika Goss, who runs Detroit Future City might be tsk-tsking me now. And most likely, as with anything else she’d be tsk-tsking me for, I probably deserve it. I completely agree we can’t wait for the wizard of oz to solve our problems. I understand the problems Detroit faces are incredibly nuanced, hard and may take longer than our lifetimes to solve. Her organization just published the 139 Square Mile Report (Hard facts and data), something Mr. Bezos would want to look at too. Please… someone other than me because this amount of data melts my brain. But I pulled a few things out of it that I think are relevant.

  1. We talk about ourselves as tech, but are we? And is that a vacuum to fill? The top 6 business clusters in the city are 1. Business Services (121%, 25%) 2. Automotive (54%, 34%) 3. Financial Services (989%, 5%) 4. Production Technology and Heavy Machinery (21%, 11%) 5. Metalworking Technology (45%, 18%) and 6. Performing Arts (160%, 34%).
  2. We have 30 jobs to every 100 residents. !!! There’s a huge opportunity to employ City of Detroit residents here in unskilled and skilled jobs with Amazon. Think of it… from property maintenance to product specialists to computer engineers.
  3. The vacancy rate is 30% – Come fill up our quality housing. Srsly… I’ve seen the housing stock we have. I know it looks bad but it just needs $ love.

I’m not pinning hopes on Jeff Bezos swooping in and saving us, but he could play an important role in inching, or even leaping, us forward in our collective goals for the city and region.

Evolution – Gradulaism Versus Punctuated Equilibrium

There’s an argument that I follow because I’m interested (okay obsessed) with ancient human and earth history. It’s basically this:

  1. Darwinists believe in change, or evolution, as being a linear, slowly growing path. This is known as Gradualism, and is the most widely taught and accepted theory.
  2. Philosophers and scientists (in the classic and enlightenment periods, respectively), believed that evolution in everything was far more nuanced, included great leaps forward, and great regressions backwards. You might understand this in terms of something called the great year, where evolution isn’t linear, rather cyclical or like a sine wave. Up, and down. Back and forth. This is called Punctuated Equilibrium or spurts forward, then a lull, then another spurt forward.

I tend to believe in the later argument. In everything, not just physical evolution, but also in earth changes, there are spurts of growth, times of decay and disaster, luls. Rinse and repeat.  I think great things can happen quickly.

Case in point: I grew up in Metro Detroit, and moved to the city Proper in 1995. So now 43 years (well 33 years thinking at all) in metro, 22 of them being in the city itself and obsessing and watching and participating. I had no objective proof that Quicken Loan’s move to Detroit was going to be great, but that flame was there. We squee’d looking out Bryan’s office windows on that Saturday move-in day in 2010. It was exciting.

Detroit was on a leap in the early 20th century. Not getting into the reasons why here, but it regressed quickly and suddenly. And a lull for 40 years.

What’s next? SQUEE! (with a hint of tsk-tsk). Keep the flame on. We’re in an upswing. I can feel it. Amazon is possible.


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