In early 2008 I was doing some consulting for the Kauffman Foundation’s FastTrac program. This took me to Detroit on June 2, 2008 to meet with TechTown about their expanded FastTrac program funded by NEI. I had read the stories and seen the pictures of Detroit. When I landed at DTW I was shocked at the modern clean airport terminal and wondered if I was in the right place.
My trip was full of new opportunities and my lack of expectations felt embarrassing. I fell in love with the people and the city of Detroit on my first trip and volunteered to be the Detroit person for the Kauffman Foundation. The interesting part of this process is that the Kauffman Foundation is in Kansas City and my home is in NC. So I did not need another city to live in or visit. But there is something so alluring about Detroit and all that is possible. I’ve even been accused having a “D” tattooed on my chest! (btw not true)
Detroit is a city of possibilities with an amazingly proud and loyal population. You might ask how they can be loyal when so many have left. The answer is simple… there are not enough jobs. Those that have left refer to themselves as Ex-pats and are looking for ways to come back or help” their” city. In fact there is a group in NY who call themselves 635 Mile…yes it is 635 miles to Detroit. I do not know of any other place in this country that has such devoted current and former residents. Everyone I meet who is from Detroit stands a little straighter and says it with pride….I must say it is contagious.
On the other hand, Detroit is also a city full of people who think they can handle all the challenges of Detroit themselves. They scoff and sometimes openly reject help from those who are not Detroiters or Michiganders. I understand the pride. But Detroit is the heartbeat of the US and we have each benefited from all that has emerged from Detroit. Therefore, it is also all of our collective responsibility to bring it back to a thriving vibrant city. If you wonder if Detroit is really the heartbeat of the US, just head to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn Michigan where you will see how our country has evolved from the wheel and dirt roads to massive highway systems with everything one can possibly imagine on these roads (food, beds, businesses etc.). All because of the innovation of Detroit.
If you stop & think about it, the automobile was clearly the biggest invention/innovation in the early 20th century. It changed all of our lifestyles by providing the ability to travel where we please when we please. I think we forget that the automobile changed our everyday life and altered the world’s economy by creating hundreds of thousands of jobs all around the world.
So I am asking all Detroiters and Michiganders to share their city. Welcome those, like me, who come to help and to encourage others to come to Detroit in order to share the wealth of their knowledge & experience and roll up their sleeves to help reignite Detroit to the vibrant city it deserves to be.
Here’s to an inclusive and innovative 2011!!!
About the Kauffman Foundation
The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation was established in the mid-1960s by the late entrepreneur and philanthropist Ewing Marion Kauffman. Based in Kansas City, Missouri, the Kauffman Foundation is among the thirty largest foundations in the United States with an asset base of approximately $2 billion.
Our vision is to foster “a society of economically independent individuals who are engaged citizens, contributing to the improvement of their communities.” In service of this vision, and in keeping with our founder’s wishes, we focus our grant making and operations on two areas: advancing entrepreneurship and improving the education of children and youth. We carry out our mission through four programmatic areas: Entrepreneurship, Advancing Innovation, Education, and Research and Policy.