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Could Detroit become the next Silicon Valley?

Sarah K. White | Nov. 6, 2015
Detroit might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of technology, but that's changing. Amazon recently announced plans to build corporate offices in downtown Detroit to help an already fast-growing tech industry in the Motor City.

Amazon isn't the only company hoping to revitalize Detroit -- an agency was created to foster global partnerships in an attempt to bring more opportunities to Detroit residents. And in February Automation Alley, a technology business association and business accelerator focused on creating growth in Southeast Michigan, reported that the Motor City was on par with Silicon Valley in terms of technology job growth. Technology-related jobs have increased steadily from 2012, according to the report, reaching over 181,000 jobs in 2015. Occupations in technology management, computers and mathematics, architecture and engineering as well as life, physical and social sciences contributed to this growth.

"It's been going on for quite some time," says Todd Thibodeaux, president of CompTIA, "Dan Gilbert, one of the founders of Quicken Loans, was an early leader in setting up shop in the Detroit metro area and urging other companies to follow him. There is a well-educated workforce in Detroit and surrounding areas and low operating costs."

And it certainly has been a long time coming considering Automation Alley was founded in 1999. Since then, membership from business, government, nonprofit and educational industries in Detroit and the surrounding eight-county region has grown to nearly 1,000.

The efforts have paid off, with Southeast Michigan coming in first nationally for its number of engineering technologies and engineering-related field degrees earned, according to a 2015 report from the Anderson Economic Group. The report, which ranked 15 "tech hubs" across the country, also found that Southeast Michigan ranked second for the number of technology industry jobs in the Midwest as well as the number of technology-focused jobs. And it ranked third nationally for the number of STEM degrees earned and for the percentage of total employment in the technology industry.

Cashing in on recent grads

This isn't Amazon's first foray into Detroit either. The company has maintained strong relationship with universities in Michigan for recruitment and internships. "The state university system produces a high proportion of exceptional talent, many of whom would like to stay close to home," says Thibodeaux.

The birth of new technology careers and opportunities is good news for those heading into college or just graduating with STEM degrees. Over time, companies hope that young people who want to remain in Detroit will look to companies like Amazon as strong career opportunities, says Thibodeaux. "Existing local talent might not be the prime beneficiaries of the initial companies, but long-term having a thriving tech hub will be a big benefit for those graduating from local universities."


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