Dan Gilbert blames Detroit's reputation for Amazon snub
Billionaire says visitors have to come to Detroit to feel the energy and excitement
Billionaire Dan Gilbert says Detroit's "radioactive-like reputation fallout" from the past 50-60 years is the reason Windsor and Detroit's joint bid to host Amazon's HQ2 didn't make the short list of 20 finalists.
The online retail giant announced Thursday it had narrowed all 238 applications for HQ2 to a list of 20 finalists. Toronto is the only Canadian city that's still being considered.
In a five-page letter posted to Twitter, the chairman of Rock Ventures and Quicken Loans Inc. challenged what he described as the "conventional belief" Detroit didn't make the short list because of a lack of talent and transportation.
"Outstanding state-of-the-art videos, well-packaged and eye-catching proposals, complex and generous tax incentives and highly compelling and improving metrics cannot nor will not overcome the strong negative connotations that the Detroit brand still needs to conquer," he wrote. "Old, negative reputations do not die easily."
Gilbert admitted only Amazon knows all of the factors behind their decision, but said it would be "wise" to take a deeper dive into why the online retail giant decided on a different direction.
Gilbert dismisses talent concerns
In the portion of the letter taking on the question of talent, he said the region could improve the "K-12 challenges that exist in many of our schools," but added a major employer like Amazon could drive skilled people to migrate to Detroit.
"The global economy allows the luxury for talented people to move to where the opportunities flourish. Those of us who run sizeable tech-based organizations ... nearly unanimously believe that Detroit/Southeast Michigan currently has an ample and rapidly growing talent pool," write Gilbert. "It's simply untrue that there is a talent crisis or shortage of talent in our region."
The chairman added Michigan companies are already attracting employees looking for an urban lifestyle.
Was it really a shortage of 'talent' that left Detroit off of the Amazon HQ2 shortlist? No. The 'Elephant in the Room' is the culprit. Here is the email I sent to the 60+ member Amazon Detroit Bid Committee of public & private leaders from MI & Canada: <a href="https://t.co/9gHsTZCZE1">https://t.co/9gHsTZCZE1</a>—@cavsdan
"There are approximately 52 million people and numerous outstanding educational institutions within a 5-hour drive of downtown Detroit," he added, describing the reservoir of talent as "as almost as big as the Great Lakes."
"The talent we need is here, close by, across the state, across the country, and across the world."
Regional transit an issue
Transportation, on the other hand, is a problem, according to Gilbert, who said the state needs figure out how to take transportation infrastructure seriously.
"What became crystal clear to us from countless surveys, discussions, observations, studies, and even Amazon itself, is that having a strong mass transit solution is the ante to play for a millennial workforce, as well as for the most successful and dynamic companies in the world," he wrote.
Despite those challenges and a "lingering, negative perception" of Detroit, Gilbert said the city has seen impressive progress.
We have witnessed for ourselves, time after time, those who have recently visited the Motor City leave with a completely turned around, positive impression,- Dan Gilbert
He urged people to stop spreading the lingering pessimistic story of Detroit and the surrounding area, which he described as the largest obstacle the area still faces.
Gilbert said the best way to confront that negative stigma is to bring visitors to the heart of Detroit.
"We have witnessed for ourselves, time after time, those who have recently visited the Motor City leave with a completely turned around, positive impression," he wrote.
Today we are announcing the communities that will proceed to the next step in the HQ2 process. Getting from 238 to 20 was very tough – all the proposals showed tremendous enthusiasm and creativity <a href="https://t.co/x1bFYbk4Ui">https://t.co/x1bFYbk4Ui</a> <a href="https://t.co/J2x0HHzBTR">pic.twitter.com/J2x0HHzBTR</a>—@amazonnews
Despite not making the cut, Gilbert said the application process has unified the region and set it up for future success.
"Let this mark the beginning of a new era of how Detroit does business… Move Here. Move the World."