Working in Detroit

Visit for all the videos in this series.

Now that Michigan’s largest city has emerged from bankruptcy and endured some painful lessons about sound, limited government, there is renewed hope that Detroit can become the economic engine it once was. Bankruptcy did not destroy Detroit’s entrepreneurial spirit. In the city’s downtown, blight is giving way to construction cranes, and the city’s neighborhoods are coming back. 

This year, the Mackinac Center launched “Working in Detroit,” a video series produced by Community Engagement Manager Anne Schieber. It highlights individuals and ideas that reflect the values of entrepreneurship and civil society: vision, private investment, risk, customer service, competitive advantage and the American dream.

Some of the people featured in the series are new to the city. Others have been around for decades, quietly succeeding and overcoming numerous obstacles, not the least of which has been the city’s population and economic decline over the past 30 years. The videos have had a wide reach. Two of them attracted nearly 150,000 views each within weeks of their release. 

Going the Extra Mile shows how private investment from an ardent fan base can help a sports club grow to new levels. 

It features Detroit City FC (DCFC), a four-year-old soccer team that quickly outgrew the stadium it was leasing. Building a new stadium was financially out of the question, so the team turned to its fans and supporters. From them, the team raised money to fix Keyworth Stadium, owned by the Hamtramck school district. Keyworth was built nearly 70 years ago and hardly in move-in condition. DCFC raised money from small investors using the MILE Act, an acronym for Michigan Invests Locally Exemption. The team was able to bypass lengthy and expensive federal securities requirements to raise $741,250 in less than 12 months. The video shows the team’s explosive home opener at Keyworth, which attracted more than 7,000 fans. 

It’s All About Customer Service demonstrates the mantra at U.S. Ice, Detroit’s largest independent ice manufacturing and distribution company. Saad Abbo, the company’s president, describes how his father founded the company some 30 years ago because he couldn’t get reliable ice delivery at his grocery stores. Through endurance, smarts and hard work, the Abbo family built the company to its current base of 3,000 customers. The business survived the city’s struggling economy and population loss. Today, it has plans to expand in cities throughout Michigan.

Belief in the American Dream features 27-year old Tracy Garley, who moved to the U.S. from Liberia when she was 11 years old with dreams of owning her own business. Today, she runs a small shop, Zarkpa’s Purses and Accessories, and shares the trials and joys of being a young entrepreneur. She shows enormous creativity and spirit in dealing with the typical obstacles faced by a new business owner, and her story is inspiring. She has dealt with theft, including a stolen air conditioner, and the challenges of running a brick and mortar retail outlet in a recovering neighborhood. 

Skin in the Game is about Zak Pashak, who is betting on the Detroit name and its history of manufacturing excellence to build bikes. He took a big risk, leaving behind successful entertainment ventures in his hometown in British Columbia to start Detroit Bikes in a reconstituted factory on the city’s west side. His factory employs more than 30 workers, assembling and distributing bikes for commuters, hobbyists and the urban bike-leasing industry. His dream is to make cycling enjoyable and accessible, and he believes he can succeed with no special favors from government. 

Tuning into Competitive Advantage examines breaking into the music industry, which is challenging enough for newcomers without also being left with crushing student debt. The Detroit Institute for Music Education, or DIME, was started by two music industry veterans from the U.K. and gives students a competitive advantage by offering them an affordable option for training and success. This private, for-profit training institution offers a four-year degree at a price comparable to in-state tuition at Michigan’s public universities. Its curriculum is geared for the commercial market rather than classical music or jazz performance, where traditional university and conservatories programs focus. The video features some of the emerging artists training at the school and explores how the concept of an explicitly market-driven college may work for other higher education programs.