D:Hive a honey of a concept

Posted on December 9, 2011

Josh McManus, a 33-year-old Georgia Tech graduate recently transplanted to Detroit from Tennessee, and Michigan native son Gov. Rick Snyder have similar thoughts about Detroit.

It’s a place with lots of upside potential and hope for young talented people, they agree.

But it can also be a difficult place for newcomers to navigate.

Tonight at the Madison Building, 1555 Broadway in Detroit, an event called Pollinate! will be held to launch D:Hive, a project designed to welcome new recruits and assist existing innovators in order to grow and keep more young talent in downtown Detroit.

Think of D:Hive as an intensely local manifestation of what Snyder called for last week in his sweeping message about the urgent need to attract and retain talent in order to grow Michigan’s economy.

The ground floor

When I asked Snyder on Wednesday why he would tell a talented young worker to settle in Detroit, he said, “Do you want to be another yuppie in Chicago or do you want to make a difference in Detroit? A lot of young people today say they really want to have impact.”

What better place than Detroit, he asked, to be “on the ground floor of helping to bring back a wonderful urban environment, to be part of a success story, to do all these great things?”

“No disrespect to Chicago,” he added, but “they’ve got lots of young people and you’re just going to blend in and be another person there, most likely.”

Because Detroit is definitely not Chicago in terms of young-adult density, however, it’s more difficult to get acclimated, both socially and in terms of basic needs such as finding a place to live or shop.

McManus was co-founder of a project in Chattanooga five years ago called CreateHere, which has won national acclaim as a catalyst for transforming a run-down, abandoned neighborhood into a vibrant, growing, arts-oriented community.

He began consulting on the D:Hive concept for Detroit last year and moved into the Brush Park area about eight weeks ago.

McManus said Snyder’s response to the why-Detroit question about young talent locating here was “a solid answer.”

A hopeful place

Detroit and Chattanooga have some similarities in that both are “post-industrial cities on a riverfront,” he said, while acknowledging that the scale of Detroit’s challenge is far different. “Where we might have 500 abandoned properties in Chattanooga, Detroit might have 5,000,” he said.

On one hand, McManus said he’s amazed at how many artists and entrepreneurs “are setting up shop in warehouse after abandoned warehouse here. I tell people back home that Detroit is one of the most hopeful places I’ve ever been to, and people think I’m kind of crazy.”

McManus expects to spend about six months spearheading the D:Hive project, which will have storefront space at 1253 Woodward and be funded at first by a $120,000 grant from the Hudson-Webber Foundation. The early focus will be on helping young talent with real estate, he said, partly because resources like Craigslist aren’t nearly as helpful in Detroit as in other cities, and partly to help make new arrivals aware of incentive programs to buy and rent downtown.

“I like to think of D:Hive as kind of an air-traffic control navigation system for talent,” said Hudson-Webber President Dave Egner. Other partners in D:Hive include the Detroit Downtown Partnership, Detroit Economic Growth Corp., Inside Detroit and Quicken Loans.