By Carol Cain
Senior Producer and Host
WWJ-TV CBS Detroit “Michigan Matters”
If you want to know what’s really going on in the Motor City, don’t believe what you read in “Time Magazine” or other national media more intent on showing the underbelly of problems.
If you want to know, get out and talk to those working behind the scenes to improve the tidings of Detroit, the region and state. Growingly, it is young people at the forefront of these efforts.
“It’s sort of like what took place here 100 years ago when Henry Ford and others created the auto industry when it didn’t exist,” said Phil Cooley, 33-year-old model turned successful restaurant owner working to improve Southwest Detroit.
“Detroit is all about innovation,” said Cooley, co-owner of Slows BAR B Q which has gained a huge following in the few years it has been opened. Located on Michigan Avenue across the street from the idled train station it might not have been an attractive spot on paper for a successful enterprise.
But it has worked.
Cooley made his comments during taping of “Michigan Matters” ( 11 a.m. Sunday on WWJ-TV CBS Detroit) and appeared with other young and young-at-heart folks trying to improve the region. Other guests included: Matt Flannery, CEO of KIVA; Anuja Jaitly, co-founder and executive director, Michigan Corps; Rishi Jaitly, program director, Detroit for John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and also co-founder, Michigan Corps; Paul Quintero, CEO of ACCION USA; and Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson.
Patterson has made creating jobs for young people a staple of his charge. He started programs like Emerging Sectors and Automation Alley which has helped create technology and medical jobs across the region.
The Draw of Detroit
Cooley, raised near Port Huron, worked as a model in Europe before returning to Michigan and settled in Detroit because of its vibe.
“We have fewer resources here than other places like Barcelona, New York or Chicago. But we are more innovative,” he said.
Cooley found living downtown Detroit downright contagious as his parents, brother and sister-in-law then living in Chicago, all followed suit.
“Detroit is very Democratic,” Cooley said. “Here, you are judged by your actions, not your resume.”
As for the endless stories of dysfunctional Detroit, Cooley said it has improved under Mayor Dave Bing’s administration.
Cooley loves the idled train station across the street and is working to improve Roosevelt Park near it. He has had help from Chrysler and DTE Energy as well as an army of volunteers.
“This place is inspiring. Detroit has a great reputation and people are coming here because of that. Detroit has a strong brand. Look at the Chrysler (Super Bowl spot with Eminem) that was wildly successful. Detroit is happening,” Cooley said.
He added Detroiters are often their worst critics.
“For some reason people here are their toughest critics,” he said.
Trading in Google for Detroit
Rishi Jaitley, who worked for Google in India and other places, just moved to Detroit with his wife and daughter.
“The momentum in Detroit these days is palpable,” said Jaitly.
“A sure way to sustain progress is to create easy opportunities for all Detroiters – young and old, new and settled – to concretely participate in and lead these efforts going forward,” he added.
Jaitly led Knight Foundation to recently launch Kiva Detroit, which empowers Detroiters to lend to and champion small businesses in their own community.
And this coming Monday, Jaitly said the Knight Foundation will launch BME , an effort to celebrate, support, and connect unsung heroes among Detroit’s black men and teens.
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Carol Cain is Senior Producer and Host of the Emmy winning “Michigan Matters” which you can watch 11 a.m. Sunday on WWJ-TV CBS Detroit. You can also read her columns on politics and business in Sunday’s Detroit Free Press. You can reach her at 248-355-7126 or via email.