I saw Detroit’s potential future in the tech industry based on what I encountered — in San Francisco. While visiting my son there recently, I envisioned Detroit as an emerging technology and mobility hub attracting talent from across this region and country. 

I have been visiting San Francisco for over 30 years and to see “The City’s” (its local nickname) transformation has been significant. 

I have also been tracking the trials, tribulations and successes of Brian Clark, a native Detroiter and University of Michigan alumnus, who moved there five years ago to pursue his entrepreneurial journey in Silicon Valley. 

To Motor City residents, San Francisco was been long known for its Golden Gate Bridge, trolley cars, steep hills, the idyllic ocean side views and the backdrop for many TV shows and movies. But now, as part of Silicon Valley, it’s known as a technology hub that’s become a magnet for young people, engineers, entrepreneurs and innovators.

Upon my arrival, I walked around downtown and felt the energy and thought of Detroit’s burgeoning downtown with its enhanced and renewed vibrancy. I also thought about our city’s potential and ever-expanding presence in the tech space. 

My son, who relocated to San Francisco with his wife from Chicago, explained to me why so many young people are migrating from primarily the East Coast and parts of the Midwest. He also reminded me that the financial resources and tech companies flowing into San Francisco were key reasons for attracting young people with diverse backgrounds. 

And as I walked around downtown, it felt like I was surrounded by a number of recent college graduates working in the shadows of San Francisco’s historic downtown buildings. I also saw technology-based companies sprinkled throughout its core. 

This influx of people has driven housing prices while increasing the region’s overall cost of living to significant levels.

For example, I talked extensively to an engineer-turned-entrepreneur regarding his housing situation. He currently shares a two-bedroom, 900-square foot apartment for $5,600 per month with three other business owners. He simply stated he has no desire to move and is willing to stay because he’s an engineer and believes having accessibility to these types of opportunities are essential for business longevity. 

These costs, however, are driving some to live across the Bay in neighboring Oakland and other surrounding areas. 

Regardless, I was amazed by its energy, continued growth and thought about how San Francisco can be an example for Detroit.

There’s been much talk about our city becoming more economically diverse. While going down this path, Detroit continues to grapple with its historical political, racial and regional divide. While progress has been made, Detroit’s future, with manufacturing its core legacy, is tied to economic diversity, technology/mobility sectors and a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem.

San Francisco’s expansion into the technology sector has become an integral part of its local economy. 

As a Detroit native, I have seen the cyclical nature of the automotive industry. And challenges still confront our fragile neighborhoods. But as I see and hear stories about Woodward Avenue’s continuing reemergence, enhanced talk about Corktown potentially becoming a tech-based hub and the automotive industry continuing to align itself in the mobility space, I thought about it in the context of San Francisco. 

Mark S. Lee is president and CEO of the LEE Group.


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