trong growth in manufacturing is one factor behind Detroit's economic recovery — a process still very much under way. (In December, the city was bracing for layoffs of hundreds of city workers in the New Year to confront a fiscal crisis that may well require state intervention.) At the same time, thousands of IT workers are now ensconced in some of the central business district's formerly empty skyscrapers, giving the Motor City a vibe that had all but vanished as the region's economy — and its signature auto industry — skidded to a halt in recent years. That was then. This is now.
The Brookings Institution's December 2011 MetroMonitor report includes Detroit and Grand Rapids in its list of the 20 metros with the strongest economic recoveries, crediting growth in manufacturing activity, particularly associated with production of autos, auto parts and related durable goods. Grand Rapids ranks second nationally in employment change from the trough of the recession to present, at 5.7 percent; Detroit weighs in at a respectable 32nd out of 100 U.S. metros, with positive employment growth of 2.1 percent. The Atlanta metro, by comparison, ranks 93rd with no change in employment growth in the same period.
Nowhere is Detroit's rebound more evident than in the Woodward Corridor, anchored by Woodward Avenue downtown. That's where Quicken Loans, CompuWare and other companies have located major high-tech operations in recent months adding impetus to a push to rename the area "Webward" in the hope of attracting more high-tech workers. Even on the automotive side, car companies and their suppliers increasingly are competing with Silicon Valley for programming talent. Demand for talent from that industry dramatically exceeds the current supply.
Mortgage giant Quicken moved its headquarters from suburban Livonia to a CompuWare-owned building in the Woodward Corridor in the hope it would attract workers with an entrepreneurial, pioneering spirit, says David Carroll, who goes by the title of vice president, miscellaneous stuff, much of which has to do with working on Detroit initiatives. Besides the synergies possible by locating in close proximity to other high-tech operations rather than in a suburban enclave, Quicken management, especially founder and Chairman Dan Gilbert, wanted to take on the challenge of revitalizing Detroit.
"It's a city many of us grew up in or around, and we don't like the way so-called Rust Best cities are disregarded — it's somewhat intangible in that you can't put that on a spreadsheet," says Carroll. Also intangible, he says, is the way working in an urban environment can "fire up" employees. In August 2010, Quicken moved 1,700 into space in CompuWare's headquarters building, completed in 2003, which Carroll calls "the best building in downtown Detroit." In October, 1,100 more employees came downtown, this time into Chase Tower, which Quicken had purchased. Early in the New Year, 400 more employees will move from the suburbs, followed by several hundred more in the spring, resulting in 4,000 workers who did not work downtown as recently as mid-2010. The company also purchased and is refurbishing the adjacent First National Building on Woodward, built in 1922, and the nearby Dime Building, which was completed in 1912. Much of this space will be leased out. "It helps revitalize the city, enhances the tax base and makes it a better city," says Carroll. "The more people that work downtown in general, the better it is for our employees."
'Outsource to Detroit'
It's fortunate, then, that Detroit was named the fastest-growing metro area in the U.S. for technology jobs in early 2011 by Dice.com, a career site for technology and engineering professionals. The site typically has about 80,000 jobs posted by employers and recruiters.