SOUTHFIELD (WWJ) — While there obviously is much work to be done on Detroit’s turnaround, Detroit is no longer an impediment to recruiting employees to the city for tech companies.
In fact, Detroit is now an asset.
That was the word Thursday morning from a panel of five people participating in Detroit’s tech-based turnaround, a monthly WWJ Technology Report Unwired event at Lawrence Technological University.
“It’s a total turnaround since 2009,” said Ryan Hoyle, director of global recruiting at GalaxE Solutions, a New Jersey IT consulting firm, mostly for the health care industry, that established a downtown Detroit office that year.
Back then, Hoyle said, recruits would look over a largely deserted Campus Martius and wonder how many days in a row they could eat at the Hard Rock Cafe, the only restaurant within convenient walking distance.
Now, Hoyle said, “it’s a question of which restaurant and which bar they want to go to,” and big crowds enjoy a wide variety of activities and attractions outside.
“Detroit is not offering only jobs any more, it is now offering career pathways,” Hoyle said. “Detroit is now an asset to our recruiting.”
And Greg Schwarz, co-founder and CEO of UpTo.com, who moved from New York City back to his native Detroit to start the app developer, said he now notices “genuine interest in the candidates we’ve talked to about the
chance to be part of Detroit’s comeback.”
Panelist Derek Weaver, president of the 4731 Group, talked about his company’s artist-based turnaround of a largely deserted neighborhood along Grand River Avenue a mile northwest of downtown. (Here’s a podcast of an
interview with Weaver about his efforts. )
And Gabe Karp, partner at Detroit Venture Partners, talked about the venture capital firm backed by local business luminaries like Dan Gilbert and Josh Linkner. He said DVP’s typical investment is $250,000 to $1 million to start,
with more add-ons later, usually totaling about $3 million. He said good ideas for tech based businesses are “a dime a dozen” — what’s rare is the management expertise to actually pull off that idea. (And here’s a podcast of
an interview with Karp about DVP. )
DVP’s portfolio companies are also required to be in Detroit, he said — “We’re not called Detroit Venture Partners for nothing.”
And Nick Gatzaros, COO at America’s Greenline, talked about his company’s efforts to bring green lighting to municipal governments and businesses, including Detroit’s city lighting department.
Hoyle, who moved his family to the Detroit area from New Jersey to work for GalaxE, said he views Detroit “as one of the world’s great tech centers. The problem is, it’s not branded as such.” He said the region has “got to knock down this whole 8 Mile nonsense and collaborate” as a tech region, everywhere from Ann Arbor to Auburn Hills. The city-suburb dispute, he said, “doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Panelists agreed what’s needed is continuing steps to extend the growth now taking place downtown and in Midtown into more of the city’s neighborhoods.