Opinion: Metro Detroit a hotbed for small businesses

Mark S. Lee

According to the 2012 U.S. Census data, the City of Detroit is home to more than 62,000 small businesses. Regionwide, it seems there's a new business opening every time you turn around, and this trend is gaining momentum.

As I've considered the entrepreneurial and business ecosystem here, a couple of questions emerge:

Is Metro Detroit a good place to relocate a business? If so, what's the "state of this region" when it comes to attracting newcomers looking to grow their businesses?

"It was not that long ago," says Glenn Stevens, executive director, MICHauto, Detroit Regional Chamber, "that Detroit and Michigan had a global perception (and, in many cases, a reality) that we were a city, region and state that was the “rust belt” and would never revive." 

Detroit skyline

But over time, the perception continues to evolve and change.

"Today’s reality could not be farther from that perception," Stevens continues. "While we have our challenges, there is a collective focus that is synergized to address what we need to do to continue to make this a place where companies and people with ideas from around the world can come to find opportunity, live, work and play."

Stevens also points out "the business climate, cost of living, quality of life, access to talent and the unique and special combination of culture and spirit of our people make the region and state more than a potential destination for startups and businesses to locate here."

How does this region compare to others? 

Justin Robinson, SVP, Business Development, Detroit Regional Partnership, cites a large labor pool and workforce of approximately 2.65 million people — that's larger than 28 other states.  Robinson cites the following: 

• The current workforce and talent pipeline are becoming more technology-oriented. Because the future of auto/mobility now involves so many new technologies, this region is attracting non-traditional automotive companies for investment opportunities.

• It's home to the largest and fastest-growing engineering clusters in the U.S., with more than 80,000 engineers employed and more than 6,000 engineers produced annually through our colleges and universities. This represents a 26% increase in engineers employment over the last five years.

• And Detroit is still the undisputed leader in automotive with 19 original equipment manufacturers. Ninety-six of the Top 100 suppliers to North American have a presence here.

In recent years several businesses have moved here from other parts of the country, including Ferndale-based Bollinger Motors, which came from mid-state New York.

Bollinger Motors, which builds two-door B1 prototypes, started in 2015 and relocated to Metro Detroit in 2018. According to Robert Bollinger, CEO, the company wanted to be closer to the automotive industry's epicenter, vendor-support network and talent for potential new hires. 

Bollinger B1

Since moving here, the company has increased its workforce from six employees to 29.  While still in its pre-revenue phase, the company is enhancing its infrastructure and is expected to achieve its longer-term and sales growth goals.

"Everything we needed was based in the Detroit area. Since moving here we've hired dozens of engineers and support staff all from Michigan," says Bollinger. "We need to hire hundreds more, so we're in the right place."

Bollinger's company has reaped benefits since being here and would not have experienced the same growth, nor would it have hired talented people, if it had gone elsewhere.

Bottom line, now is a good time to give this region serious thought. 

Mark S. Lee is president & CEO of The LEE Group, a Plymouth-based, strategic consulting firm.  You can hear him "In the Conference Room," 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays, on 910 AM. You can also hear “Small Talk” podcasts at leegroupinnovation.com.