Mayor Duggan: Only ‘extreme rebels come to Detroit’

Stephanie Steinberg
The Detroit News

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan made his pitch Friday for budding business owners from across the country and world to come to the city by saying only “extreme rebels come to Detroit.”

In an art studio overlooking the Detroit River, the former CEO of the Detroit Medical Center told a group of 80 millennial entrepreneurs that starting a business means taking risks.

“If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re a rebel by nature,” Duggan said. “You had to ignore what your friends said, maybe what your family said, about ‘don’t take this chance.’ You’ve got that rebel streak in you.”

The mayor’s remarks prompted a true millennial response: “Hashtag extreme rebel,” a woman shouted from the crowd gathered at artist Lisa Spindler’s studio, Spindler Project, on Fort Street.

The group of entrepreneurs from as far away as London and Singapore are in Detroit with the New-York based startup Breakout, which organized the three-day retreat. The goal is for members to meet change makers in Detroit and make connections.

Duggan said he hopes they’ll bring their businesses back to Detroit, too.

“We’re looking for investment from around the world and what we need most of all in Detroit right now is jobs,” Duggan told The Detroit News after his speech in front of industrial pieces.

“I’ve spent a good part of my time talking to people around the country and around the world who are entrepreneurs who can invest here. Hopefully some people here tonight see something they like in their visit, move a company here and put some folks to work.”

This is the second year Breakout has come to Detroit. In the last few years, the 350-member group from technology, fashion and media startups has visited growing cities such as Miami, Baltimore and New Orleans. Their next stop is Portland in the fall.

Breakout co-founder Michael Farber, 32, of Columbia, Maryland, said the group returned to Detroit because members wanted to “keep an open dialogue going instead of parachuting in and never coming back.”

“Detroit is so early in its comeback story. But it’s so misunderstood by people who don’t live here,” Farber said. “We wanted to shed that light on what’s positively happening in the city.”

The group’s itinerary includes meeting fellow entrepreneurs at the Detroit incubator Ponyride, touring Rock Ventures and exploring places such as southwest Detroit and the Heidelberg Project.

One attendee asked how the city is going to maintain safety with the influx of people moving in to start businesses and live downtown.

The mayor’s response? “The rush helps the safety.”

“Density is one of the best protections you can have. In our most densely populated areas, we have very little crime. It’s the areas in the city that have 50 percent vacant houses, which we’re working on very aggressively.”

He added that two years ago, it could take 30 minutes to see an ambulance. Now, the city’s emergency response time of eight minutes is not far from the national average.

“What we have too much of here is we have people settling beefs with gunfire. Sometimes they’re formal gigs. Sometimes they’re just people who get in an argument ... we’re working very hard on dealing with that,” he said, adding that he’s in the process of hiring 250 more police officers to deploy to those high violence areas.

Earlier in the day, Duggan said he met with the CEO of Dunkin’ Donuts. In March, Dunkin’ Brands CEO Nigel Travis told DBusiness that Dunkin’ Donuts planned to open more than 20 stores in southeastern Michigan in the next five years, including ones in Detroit.

“He came to my office to see me, and he said, ‘Tim Hortons has got a bunch of places in Detroit and we don’t. What do we have to do to come here?’ I said, ‘I know we’re coming back when Dunkin’ Donuts wants to open up a place in Detroit,’ ” Duggan said.

It’s also coming back when entrepreneurs are checking out Detroit.

“I do hope that locals and out-of-towners will meet and become friends, will establish relationships and, as these relationships grow over time,” Farber says, “people will look to help each other.”