“The Elephant in the Room”: Why Wasn’t Detroit Included in Amazon’s List?

Amazon’s decision to pass up Detroit for its new North American headquarters is a big disappointment for many local officials. As we heard earlier this week from Detroit Regional Chamber CEO Sandy Baruah… they thought they had submitted a world-class proposal that would at least get them in the top 20 cities vying for the huge campus. It would have brought tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in local investment. So it’s no surprise that many of the people involved are frustrated. That was made especially clear by Dan Gilbert who posted a memo to his Amazon committee members that blamed a lingering national perception that Detroit is a depressed and dangerous place.

Gilbert wrote in his letter, titled “The Elephant in the Room“:

“Old, negative reputations do not die easily. I believe this is the single largest obstacle that we face… 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.”

Although these public officials and businessmen are disappointed… Michigan Future Incorporated President Lou Glazer is not surprised. He writes:

The reality is that in the growing high wage knowledge-based sectors of the global economy talent—those with a four-year degree or more—is the asset that matters most and is in the shortest supply. This reality has been clear for more than a decade.

At both the state and regional levels Michigan’s policymakers, by and large, supported by the business community have chosen to ignore this reality. Rather they have focused on trying to revive Michigan’s 20th Century economy and sectors largely through lowering taxes and organizing an education system to prepare most Michigan kids—but not theirs––to work in the declining factory-based economy rather than the growing knowledge-based economy.

To hear from Glazer on Detroit Today, as well as a conversation about how education factors into the lost Amazon bid, click on the audio player above.


  • Detroit Today
    Dynamic and diverse voices. News, politics, community and the issues that define our region. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today brings you fresh and perceptive views weekdays at 9 am and 7 pm.