April 4, 2014

Detroit CA trek disappoints

Careers Trek was a missed opportunity for both the city and UChicago students.

This past College Break Day I took off to Detroit on a Career Advancement (CA) Business trek. I hoped that the trek would give students a new view of Detroit: creativity instead of decay, entrepreneurial success rather than municipal bankruptcy. But the trip was short and the highlights few. We “trekked” to Detroit but hardly explored anything. For a struggling city that could appeal to the business- and creative-minded alike, it was an unfair showing.

We arrived on Thursday evening at a hotel 20 miles north of the city. Our survey of Detroit’s social scene was limited to delivery pizza at a suburban Holiday Inn. Early Friday morning we toured Chrysler, where the weight of the brand name was more exciting than the content of the presentations or available positions. After Chrysler, we finally arrived in the city at D:hive, a community center that helps guide Detroiters to jobs, cultural amenities, and places to live. There we saw two brief slideshows, one regarding a state-sponsored job search program and the other showcasing restaurants, bars, music venues, living spaces, and other attractions we didn’t get to see for ourselves. Next was the highlight of the trip, Quicken Loans, where the offices look more like ones you’d expect at Google than at an online mortgage lender, prompting comments like, “I would expect this in San Francisco, but not in Detroit.” But the Quicken Loans tour was rushed due to time constraints, and after 18 hours in Metro Detroit, we trekked right back to Hyde Park.

What we missed was the Detroit Creative Corridor Center, which offers consulting to creative small businesses. And Detroit Venture Partners, a tech-centered venture capital firm. And Shinola, the high-end watchmaker that recently started manufacturing in Detroit. And Data Driven Detroit, a research and analysis firm that provides useful information to businesses, grassroots leaders, and city officials. And numerous other nonprofits involved in developing the community and economy.

We also missed Sweetwater Tavern, where the wings will make you forget about Harold’s. And the nationally recognized Slows Bar-B-Q. And all of the available living arrangements that could entice a UChicago alum.

I’ll admit I’m a homer. Coming from the Detroit area, I often encourage my peers to go explore Detroit, see what’s there, and form their own opinions of the ill-reputed city. I’d love to see some of UChicago’s best go to the Motor City and contribute to its revitalization, which is exactly why the Detroit Business trek frustrated me so much.

If the goal of a CA Business trek is to show students what it might be like to live, work, and play in a city, the Detroit trek failed. We left without any idea of the breadth of opportunities the city offers, moving in and out so fast I can’t imagine students gained any impression of Detroit whatsoever. With more time, money, and planning, the Detroit trek could have been meaningful both to ambitious UChicago students and to the companies who would love to hire them in the Motor City.

Perhaps Detroit simply doesn’t yet have enough appeal or opportunity for UChicago students. Cincinnati or Austin, two other cities recently visited by CA, might be more livable and reputable. And CA probably doesn’t want to spend much money on a trip that garnered 13 participants. But if we were going to take a shitty trip where we didn’t experience the city in any meaningful way, why did we even go at all?

A recent visit to Milwaukee not sponsored by CA was impressively fun, affordable, and showed me some cool career opportunities there. So I think I’ll plan my own career trips from now on. With that said, if you’re interested in Detroit, let’s make the trek.

Phillip Brown is a third-year in the College majoring in geography.