You think you know Detroit? Think again

Marney Rich Keenan
The Detroit News

A self-described data nerd and communicator, Jeanette Pierce gives a tour of Detroit’s Guardian building.

It wasn't until 8 p.m. on Tuesday last week when Jeanette Pierce arrived home from work and realized that it was nine years to the day that she started D:hive, the nonprofit responsible for the recruiting and retention of a major amount of talent and innovation in the city.

On Jan. 6, 2006, after advertising on Myspace, Pierce and friend Maureen Kearns launched Inside Detroit, the precursor to D:hive, in a bar called Pulse. They handed out free drink tickets and signed up people for tours of the city then considered so dead it was beyond redemption.

Pulse has long-since closed, and the building it was housed in razed. Millennials think Myspace is a reason to break off a relationship, and several people called Pierce crazy. She also was broke enough to wonder if they were right. Still, Pierce held steadfast to a lifelong passion for the city.

Almost a decade later, her mantra "I love Detroit" now has a tag line. "Detroit loves me back," Pierce said early this week in that infectious, gregarious manner of hers that comes across like an ice cream cone. You cannot not like Detroit's biggest booster.

D:hive — e.g. her baby (Kearns left early on to start Detroit Segways) — was the umbrella company for the welcome center tours and the small business incubator. Both became so successful they were busting at the seams.

Jeanette Pierce, founder of the welcome center D:hive, will now be heading up Detroit Experience Factory (DXF).

In 2014, some 12,000 people took one of D:hive's Detroit tours. That's up from 10,000 in 2013 and 8,000 in 2012. The interview process for new hires at Quicken Loans now includes a two-hour tour. In the two years that D'hive's Build Institute has been incubating small business entrepreneurs, some 400 have graduated; many have gone on to start their own businesses.

Now two separate entities as of January, Build Institute moved to Bagley in Mexicantown, where it will continue to operate its small business programming. Detroit Experience Factory, or DXF, will advance D:hive's mission, celebrating some of the city's best kept secrets and providing an "insider's perspective of one of America's greatest post-industrial cities."

"It's such an exciting time in the city," said Pierce, 34, ticking off her plans for new programs (one that centers around volunteerism and community engagement is called "Volun-Tours") in the rapid-fire speech that is her calling card.

Ordering an iced tea in CK Mediterranean Grill, next door to her office on Monroe, Pierce is on a first-name basis with the owner, just as she is with most every proprietor of any establishment in the city.

After all, those are the kind of relationships you forge when you are so invested in the city, like inviting its 700,000 residents via Facebook to your wedding. In 2011, Pierce and now-husband Richard Peresky exchanged vows in Campus Martius and served 800 cupcakes from the Capuchin bakery On the Rise.

Raised in East English Village and the youngest of five children, Pierce's father sold insurance to many of the city's nonprofits and her mother was politically active.

"In 1979, they bought a new house in the city, and not because they're martyrs, not because they wanted to make a point, but because they wanted culture and diversity," she said. "As a kid, you don't realize the importance of those decisions, but I do now."

As a result, Pierce says she was hanging out in blues bars by the age of 15, becoming a fan of Thornetta Davis, who sang at her wedding. Growing up, her three best friends were African-American, biracial and Latino.

After college — she attended Aquinas College on a full-academic scholarship — Pierce moved back to the city in 2003 at the age of 22 and never found a reason to leave.

"Why would I?" she asked. "I can walk to 250 bars and restaurants. I can walk to three major sports stadiums. I can walk to 13,000 theater seats. We have the second-largest theater district in the country. I can walk to Canada for heaven's sake!"

And if that sounds like a tourism spiel, she fully admits it is. "It's just that I'd go to the bar and have these amazing conversations that over the years those conversations have turned into spiels."

Like: "In certain places, people go the bar and they talk to the people they came with and the people they want to go home with. But in Detroit, we talk to everybody. Young, old, married, single, gay, straight."

And: "Detroit is big enough to matter in the world and small enough to matter in it."

A self-described data nerd and communicator, Pierce says she loves what she does because she can have a huge impact in a relatively short amount of time.

"You can't fix public schools overnight and you can't fix poverty or crime, but give me two hours and I can change someone's life. That's pretty cool."