Jonathan Coppage, writing at The American Conservative, unfolds the near miraculous story of powerful job growth in previously forlorn Detroit and Wayne County, Michigan. Here’s how it happened.
In the 1950s, on a per capita basis, Detroit was the richest city in America. The Broadway-Capitol Theatre offered showings of Casablanca in palatial Renaissance décor. The Detroit Institute of Arts Museum boasted one of the world’s greatest collections, including works by Picasso, van Gogh, and Matisse. The city’s vibrant downtown was populated by soaring Art Deco skyscrapers, burnished with sculpted ornamentation.
Seventy years later, Detroit was already decades into its identity as the American City That Failed, which culminated in its declaration of bankruptcy on July 18, 2013.
Literally the biggest part of Detroit’s rebuilding, the restoration of its downtown, is the best known, as it has its own press office. Detroit native and home-mortgage billionaire Dan Gilbert returned to his home city to invest in it and has been leading efforts to resurrect the once-proud downtown into a compelling place to do business. Gilbert poured money into buying the Art Deco and Beaux Arts skyscrapers that Detroit could never afford to tear down.
At a time when the city itself is in bankruptcy court, large private investors like Gilbert are providing the public services that government stopped supplying. They are even helping to build a streetcar line on Detroit’s main boulevard, Woodward Avenue. Gilbert and his peers—such as Mike Ilitch, the Little Caesar’s pizza magnate and owner of Detroit’s Red Wings and Tigers; and Manuel Moroun, the owner of the Ambassador Bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor, Ontario—have been controversial figures, given the natural suspicions of Detroiters toward outsiders with big plans for their city.
2016 is expected to be the first year in over 60 years that the city of Detroit will increase in population. Wayne County, where Detroit and some of its suburbs are located, has now experienced five straight years of job growth.