THE BLOG
04/19/2012 05:06 pm ET Updated Jun 19, 2012

Detroit's Tale of Two Cities

Inspiration. Innovation. Investment. These three words have more in common than the same first letter -- they are things occurring throughout Detroit. Business, civic and community leaders across Detroit are innovating and investing in the recovery of one of the country's greatest cities -- and the effort is inspiring.

But for the past several months, the positive things happening in Detroit are at risk of being overshadowed by the fiscal crisis at City Hall. It is a stark juxtaposition: a city teetering on the brink of bankruptcy as the backdrop to a flurry of activity and momentum as businesses, foundations and other organizations continue to invest in it. Signs of growth are everywhere and the entrepreneurial environment is much improved from five years ago. Innovators, entrepreneurs and investors continue to flock to or put resources into the Motor City, in many cases just blocks from City Hall. It truly is a tale of two cities.

From my point of view, Detroit's recovery is not surprising. When I decided to relocate here from Washington, D.C., I had to look beyond the headlines and look at the foundation of the city. Having led two domestic development agencies, including the Small Business Administration, and having seen first-hand what made for prosperous cities across the country, I came to the same conclusions as so many others throughout this region. Detroit is a city worth investing in, fertile for entrepreneurship. It's a city as alluring for its future as it is for its iconic past. It's a city I'm proud to be a part of that is on the verge of something great.

Realizing that potential will only come if Detroit-based businesses, current and future, thrive. On April 24th, the Detroit Regional Chamber is hosting its first ever Detroit Business Conference -- an event to bring executives, elected officials and community leaders together to help spur business growth and drive entrepreneurship.

The Conference is bringing to the forefront a discussion that is crucial to the strength and prosperity of our city -- inherently making it vital to our region and state. Ultimately, Michigan goes as Detroit goes. The Motor City must be a strong, vibrant urban center for the region and state to compete in the global economy. Detroit has to be the catalyst for attracting the talent and investment needed for success in the 21st century market.

At the heart of every economically successful region, you'll find a prosperous urban center. Cities have assets, infrastructure and opportunities that rural and suburban areas just can't match. Detroit is no different. In fact, it offers a unique value proposition few cities can match. Serving as the global headquarters of the world's most advanced and innovative industry -- the Motor City has the talent, infrastructure, research institutions and supply chain system today's businesses require. It has an abundance of affordable office space and land. It sits across the river from the country's largest trading partner and anchors a region with a sought-after quality of life, and it is home to people who are committed to improving their city.

Since arriving here in 2010, I have heard and seen first-hand stories of why and how businesspeople are putting their money, brain power and sweat into Detroit. It is all these individual, unofficial Detroit stories that continue to lift the city. Detroit has seen its darkest days and is climbing back. It is showing the world there's no challenge too big. While a big fist hangs defiantly in the shadow of City Hall, Detroit packs more than a punch -- it packs the collective energy of a city and region that epitomize resiliency.

Sandy K. Baruah is President and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber. Baruah served as President George W. Bush's last Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
Prior to leading the SBA, Baruah served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce and served as the Senior Advisor to Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez regarding the 2010 Census and represented the U.S. at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
After leaving his most recent government service in early 2009, he was a Distinguished Fellow at the U.S. Council on Competitiveness. Baruah holds a B.S. from the University of Oregon and a MBA from Willamette University.