Michigan wants its economy to be a little less GM, a little more Eminem. It's all part of Gov. Jennifer Granholm's Cool Cities Initiative, which aims to foster entrepreneurship by supporting music, the arts, outdoor activities, and the bar scene in cities from Troy to Detroit.
The theory comes from Carnegie Mellon professor Richard Florida's 2002 book, The Rise of the Creative Class, which details how cities like Austin and San Francisco leverage their large numbers of scenesters into economic dynamism. While many cities have adopted Florida's approach, Michigan is the first state to do so. "Clearly, you cannot build an economy around guitarists with ripped T-shirts," says Florida. "But the line between creativity and entrepreneurship is a thin one."
The solution, he says, is to "do a million little things" such as amending zoning laws, transforming historic buildings into loft apartments, and donating land for artist colonies. He also argues that municipalities that support their ethnic and gay communities tend to prosper.
But the fact that thousands of college graduates leave Michigan each year won't change with a few more 24-hour coffeehouses. Leslie Parks, the former economic development director of San Jose, Calif., says that Michigan's "heart is in the right place" but that it should focus on less "sexy" projects such as enlisting universities to support local businesses.
Granholm acknowledges that giving a Rust Belt state the Queer Eye treatment is a novel strategy, and she's quick to add that her efforts include more funds and tax breaks for small companies. But she thinks Michigan has no choice but to place its economic fate in the hands of creative types, ripped T-shirts and all. "Because of our manufacturing base, people in Michigan have always viewed themselves as working for a company," she says. "But in the 21st century, they need to realize they have the potential to be their own company."