When I packed up and left the west coast one year ago to move to Detroit, a lot of people didn’t get why I was leaving. I had a decent, stable job at a non-profit with good benefits. What was there to complain about?
But I felt like my career was floundering. I wanted to make an impact, but everything I tried to get off the ground was met with indifference. I saw myself becoming just another disenfranchised Millennial, with too much student loan debt to take a risk. But I knew I could work hard enough to make something happen. I wanted to be somewhere where it was the hustle - not the pedigree - that mattered.
So I started to seek out other areas of this vast country. I was in the middle of plotting moves to Minneapolis or Boston when I came across something strange online: Metro Detroit has as many tech jobs as Silicon Valley. Prior to that, my only knowledge of the area came from Charlie LeDuff’s Detroit: An American Autopsy, which, as I now know, does not represent all of the abundance and vibrancy this area offers.
I started applying for jobs and landed at PIXO Group in their marketing department. Two weeks after I had the offer, I packed up everything in my car and drove East. And I fell in love. PIXO was small. It was young. There was so much energy. There was so much work to do. And I was finally in a position where I could do anything.
A year later, the honeymoon continues. I’m more convinced than ever that not only was this the right move for me, it could be the right move for a lot of people who are low on funds but big on dreams. Here’s why:
This is the obvious one. My friends back home nearly faint when they hear my rent is one-fifth of theirs. And even with their jobs at prestigious global tech companies, they're still not making the $120,000 a year needed to live comfortably in San Francisco - just to share a house with 40 other people.
If there’s a company you have your eye on, it’s not very difficult to meet the founders or C-suites at a local event. There’s so much going on across the state, and more often than not, executives are there and eager to chat. Over the last year, I personally attended everything from TechWeek and the record-breaking Startup Week, to hackathons and TEDxDetroit, to many fantastic events at Grand Circus and Bamboo and Automation Alley, to technology events at universities and community colleges and high schools, and even showed off our virtual reality at a dedicated tech space at Mo Pop - it’s super easy to make friends here.
Women founding startups is on the decline in Silicon Valley, but women in tech in Metro Detroit are better represented and paid more than those in the Valley. While the 11 largest tech companies average 30% female employees, in Detroit, it’s 44.5%. And with events like Self.Conference, and organizations like the New Economy Initiative and TechTown, this area is receiving national attention for their dedication to inclusive economic development. It’s clear the opportunities are in Metro Detroit for women and people of color.
First of all, we have Jill Ford. That’s pretty major. Another Valley transplant, the appointment of Ford demonstrates the City’s commitment to fostering tech. And I love working with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the Michigan Film & Digital Media Office and Oakland County’s Tech248. Michigan was the first state to pass comprehensive legislation supporting autonomous vehicles. (Now, what about a Tesla dealership?)
Its Past and Future (and Grit!)
Detroit is a beautiful city. I mean, beautiful. The architecture, the history, the art! And I see the aesthetic beauty of the surroundings reflected in the people. While there is a lot of cliché talk in tech about “making the world a better place,” I think that ethos is genuine here. Detroit, and Michigan, are not without problems. But we have more opportunities here and more passion to fix things that matter, and I firmly believe we can lead the rest of the country by example.
Kristin Hope is a content creator. For many years, she worked for a daily newspaper and edited a travel guide to Silicon Valley before graduating from San Francisco State University in 2009. She trudged through the Great Recession in a food truck by day, and edited software for major corporations at night. Currently, she is a copywriter and mastering the mercurial world of digital marketing at PIXO Group and ONU, both headquartered in Royal Oak. Visit her at https://pirh.org