My favorite part of meeting new people is telling them where I live. When I reveal that my home and job are both in downtown Detroit, I typically get a response that mixes incredulity with horror, opening the door to a conversation on my perspective on the city. My talking points generally match up with the Detroit Gospel narrative that has been making the news in the wake of the city's bankruptcy, though I make sure to include one critical element that too frequently gets ignored.
In case you haven't heard the news, Detroit is reinventing itself. Between the low cost of living and the investment by individuals like Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans, the city has become a hub for entrepreneurs and change-makers. As they create new businesses and projects, the thinking goes, Detroit will prosper as a tech hub, overcoming the challenges of the last half-century.
All of this represents a tangible reality here, but it does not address one of the most critical challenges: the lack of a high-tech skilled workforce. Detroit entrepreneurs start companies that are high-growth and high-technology, but also require very specifically-skilled people in order to grow. Whether building an iPhone app or an online service, these companies attract investment, media attention and excitement from the local business community, but run into the problem of personnel soon after.
Ask any executive of a tech company in Detroit about their attempts to hire a developer, and you'll get a groan. For entrepreneurs in a city like Detroit, finding quality technical talent is a never-ending personal headache and company-stalling weakness.
This is the problem: Detroit has the spark of entrepreneurship and the startup community here has caught fire. But high-quality kindling isn't the only ingredient for a roaring bonfire. Detroit doesn't yet have a workforce that is fuelling the needs of its burgeoning tech industry.
This is where tech training comes in. Providing local residents with in-demand skills like coding and digital marketing solves the defining challenge of Detroit's entrepreneurial community. The bottleneck caused by the lack of a technical workforce artificially slows the prosperous startup movement, robbing it of its momentum and severely restricting the kinds of financial benefits that a prospering startup economy can give a struggling city. Tech training addresses this head-on.
If Detroit can effectively bolster its workforce to the point that high-growth startups aren't crippled by personnel shortages, it will dramatically accelerate its transformation into an entrepreneurship and tech hub of the world.
As a Venture for America fellow, I have the privilege of not only being a part of the startup ecosystem in Detroit, but I am also working with a company, Grand Circus, that aims to solve this critical need through world-class training in technology, business and design. We believe that between the number of high-growth businesses and high-ambition individuals, Detroit needs excellent tech training to empower its residents and supercharge its economy.
From our location in downtown, we provide training to everyone from first-time programmers to seasoned professionals, ensuring that current practitioners are the ones dispensing knowledge and are doing so in a non-lecture, "flipped classroom" model. We've found that Detroiters are hungry for these skills and eager to put them to use in the creative startup community.
As we continue to pursue our mission of educating Detroiters and facilitating a skilled workforce for the startup community, we're excited to add a chapter to the Detroit Gospel narrative. This new one clarifies that there's a distinction between jobs created and jobs filled, aiming to ensure that Detroit sees an equal amount of each.
This blog post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Venture for America, in conjunction with the Venture for America Innovation Fund. Right now, seven teams of VFA Fellows are competing for access to $20,000 to get projects off the ground and make an impact in in Detroit, Providence, Cincinnati and New Orleans. To see all the other posts in the series, click here. For more information about Venture for America, clickhere.