TechTown

TechTown discovers the new art of job creation in a Rust Belt city, while planning next stage FAB Lab.

Painted butterflies dance motionless across a painted clear blue sky. The artwork runs a full block along one wall of the American Electrical Heater Company building in Midtown, Detroit. On another side of the empty factory white windmills spin in windless air.

Around the corner, in a small house where Cadillac salesmen once counted their commissions, a dark striking face from another world stares from a large canvas. It is the first exhibit as you enter the community art gallery named Quark, launched this year by TechTown and Wayne State University.

Some might say that new art on old buildings is like old wine in new bottles, but at TechTown, a 43-acre entrepreneurial community in Detroit, we believe this art signifies an important change taking place in the city. We believe that artists and a vibrant creative sector are critical to rebuilding a city’s shaken economy and reinventing an old industrial district from the core as an exciting place to work, live and play. And both within the walls of TechTown and without, we see this creative sector taking seed.

The neighborhood now known as TechTown was once the commercial heartbeat of America, the home of General Motors, the world’s largest and most profitable company. Today, after decades of economic turmoil caused by an automotive industry weathering seismic shifts, long-emptied buildings are being rebuilt, and artists and scientists alike are pursuing their dreams in the city’s most thriving entrepreneurial community.

Across the street from the American Electrical building another once-empty factory adorned with a big blue butterfly now welcomes 700 workers a day. This time, the butterfly is the logo of Asterand, a life sciences company and TechTown’s first tenant, now employing dozens and traded on the London Stock Exchange.

More than 200 new companies fill every corner of this refurbished Chevy factory, including world-class scientists developing new approaches to curing diseases and entrepreneurs building online marketplaces for Michigan-made art and jewelry. Entrepreneurs of all industries receive one-on-one coaching from business experts, educational workshops, space for lease, and access to talent and capital—all critical resources for successfully launching a startup.

With the support of ArtPlace, TechTown is determining how best to establish a new tool for creative entrepreneurs—a “makerspace” to help artists and designers grow viable businesses in the district.

TechTown partner U3 Ventures has drafted a concept paper that suggests a program for the “Fabrication Arts Businesses Laboratory” (FAB Lab) in Detroit consisting of fabrication and workshop space, art studios, small business workspaces, shared galleries and events spaces for FAB Lab members.

With resources like these, Detroit will be much closer to having the flourishing creative sector it seeks and needs, and even more empty factories will metamorphose into energetic entrepreneurial communities.

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