Creating a 21st century Economy…in Detroit?

I recently wrote about a plan, which is actually beginning to come to fruition, to create a major urban farm in Detroit called Hantz Farms;  you can read it here. One of the inspiring aspects of this project is that Detroit is probably one of the most surprising places one could imagine to create a farm–and we are talking about acres and acres not a small-scale community garden, there are already over 900 small gardens in Detroit.

This sort of creativity and out of the box thinking based on real-life situations is what originally propelled America to greatness and business ingenuity decades ago, and it is probably the only way to restore America’s economy and move us truly into the 21st century in a sustainable way…which is the only way that has a future.

Today I read an article in the NY Times with more encouraging news out of Detroit. Yes, good news for a change. It seems that there are quite a few businesses who have recognized that there are many assets still in this city and it is time to utilize them before they disappear. Detroit has been abandoned by half its population, but perhaps more significantly abandoned mentally and emotionally by most of the country since it has come to symbolize much of what has gone wrong in this country. Could it be that now Detroit will become a model for what can go right in the U.S.?

Here are just a few brief examples from the article of what is happening in Detroit that offer a glimpse of what could bring new life for this city, and as you will see many of these businesses are a part of the ‘alternative’ energy paradigm. Some of the new projects in Detroit have come from multinationals who are innovators in this field. It has taken the U.S. a while to catch on, many European countries are way ahead of us when it comes to clean, alternative energy, but at least we are finally beginning to move in this direction. Apparently in America the people will move this forward not the government, so support this in any way that you can.

A solar energy company base in Dublin, Ireland, NTR, awarded contracts to two auto suppliers to make components for solar dishes. NTR’s chief executive points out in this article that it should be no surprise that they came to Detroit because, “the standard of manufacturing in the automotive industry is extremely high, and that is the only place you can find such a concentration of skills.”

Maybe we need to ask ourselves why America is not in the forefront recognizing the skills that remain from our industrial base. Have we become so accustomed to just throwing things out, including people, that don’t seem to work anymore. We need to recognize something new is possible. NTR is installing the first 60 of its SunCatcher dishes in Phoenix, Arizona and if all goes well with its solar-plant deals they expect to sell 65,000 of them over the next couple of years. Now that is an opportunity if I have ever seen one, and that is just the beginning.

Global Wind Systems, based in a Detroit suburb, is working with local suppliers to design a new generation of turbines that will be assembled in the area.

General Electric is investing $100 million in a research and manufacturing facility for wind turbines that will employ 1,000 people.

One of the largest projects combines the vision of two investors, Extreme Power of Austin, Texas and Clairvoyant Energy of Santa Barbara, California. Just outside Detroit they are refurbishing a closed Ford plant and will hire 4,000 workers to make solar panels and battery systems for utility companies.

In spite of its many problems Detroit can turn designs into workable products quickly, and it still has a precision manufacturing base that can be a huge advantage for these new businesses. It just takes rethinking what is available and what is needed in this era that we have entered.

Dowding Industries, a family-owned company in Eaton Rapids, could prove to be a model company for recognizing what potential exists by moving forward. The company had provided parts for the auto, tractor and rail industries but faced a losing battle as work was shifted overseas. After learning about the growing wind-power industry Dowding shifted gears. An initial contract with a wind turbine company started something new for this company. You can read more about it in the NY Times article.

I will add, not all of the new ventures are part of this new sustainable future that we are slowly creating, but they are bringing jobs and new hope to the city and this is crucial as well. Do we have to wait for our cities to be emptied and businesses to collapse before we move in a new direction? Detroit may be showing us what is possible but lets support these changes in our own cities and towns now. There is much work to do to move to a sustainable future, but it is exciting and is really already happening in many ways, we just don’t hear enough about it. Help spread the word and be a part of it.