Detroit becomes destination for top-level talent

Innovative program Photo: The Detroit Hub

DETROIT, May 22, 2013 — Over 900 applied and 17,000 voted in 2012 for the opportunity to work in Detroit. Yes, Detroit, the city that’s much-maligned nationally for crime, corruption and the decline of American manufacturing. Problems do exist in Detroit, just like in any large metropolis. But the city has embarked on a solution called Challenge Detroit, a program designed to attract top-level talent to some of America’s largest companies. 

Now approaching its second year, the Challenge Detroit selects 30 individuals to live, work, play, give and lead in within the city of Detroit. Individuals are provided with incentives to live in select parts of the city as well as a job with Chrysler, GM, Team Detroit and more. They are also entered into a mentorship program with city leaders. In exchange, they produce blog content and attend social and cultural events monthly. 

For top-level talent recently graduating college, the program is an opportunity to gain valuable exposure and start building valuable connections. For Detroit, it’s an opportunity to show talented individuals why they should consider and ultimately chose to bring their talents to Detroit. When it comes to any city, it’s better to show rather than tell people what it has to offer. 

How will Detroit continually attract top-level talent? Why is this program important for the companies involved? These two questions were posed to and answered by some of the most important people regarding the current talent situation in Detroit. Their answers are included below. 

Doyle Mosher - Founder of Challenge Detroit

Execution of transformational ideas are generally only possible under the most dire of circumstances. The City of Detroit, once great and mighty, had fallen to an unimaginable low. The only answer was collaboration on an epic scale. To be successful and embraced, Challenge Detroit had to join government and foundations, private and public institutions, for profit and nonprofit organizations, as well as entrepreneurial individuals and the community. To my knowledge, this is the first time that a coordination of this scale and nature (engagement as opposed to financial) has been executed and likely one of the few circumstances where it actually could have happened.

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Through one-minute videos, content driven by the applicants, a new story was uncovered about Detroit. A story of Detroit’s past, present and future. A collage of perspectives and insights, respecting Detroit’s history, acknowledging Detroit today, and most importantly driving the vision for Detroit tomorrow. The best and brightest came in force from near and far.  

The premise of Challenge Detroit was to start a “social movement.” We believed that if young professionals could “hear” and “see” (through social media) the leaders of their generation rallying around Detroit and the opportunity that Detroit presented, that thousands would follow. We also believed that if we joined a wide breadth of companies from varying industries and complexion that Detroit could send a message that strong diversity was preferred.  In a sense, “We want you, we all want you.”

Sarah Sheffer - Sr. Recruiter, Team Lead at ePrize

As the city is clearly reinventing itself, it’s going to be looking at the younger creative class. Both ePrize and Detroit provide a fantastic place to jumpstart a career, join the emerging tech presence, and be part of the exciting growth. Also, as an organization founded in metro Detroit, we really strive to do everything we can to give back to the local community. This includes participating in programs like Challenge Detroit, as well as offering all of our team members a ½ day of paid time off every year to volunteer their time with a charity or cause of their choice.

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Top talent means extraordinary people. People who are interesting because they are interested. People who have lives. Extraordinary people need to feed their creativity. They need interesting places to visit, cultural variety, a vast array of experiences, and diverse people to connect with. Detroit hands that to them day after day.

Bill Hall - Director of Sustainability and Business Continuity at Chrysler Group LLC

I believe that top talent is looking for an opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way to the world around them. At the same time, they appreciate a vibrant, interesting and diverse cultural and social life, and in this respect, Detroit has so much to offer. From indie music to opera; from small galleries to the Detroit Institute of Arts; from exceptional universities to premier professional sports teams – it’s all here.

Chrysler Group got involved with Challenge Detroit last year through a chance conversation I had with Doyle Mosher, the Challenge Detroit founder, at a social event. Because Chrysler has cultivated an atmosphere where anyone can bring innovative ideas forward, and because Challenge Detroit fits so well with the Company’s principles and goals, it gained traction and we kicked off our sponsorship with very quick turnaround.

Chrysler has an extensive manufacturing presence in the City of Detroit and we believe in giving back to the communities that have always supported us.  Many of our community efforts have traditionally been focused on “basic needs” such as food campaigns and housing.  Challenge Detroit offered us a truly innovative way to make a difference: by bringing in young professional talent with fresh ideas, creative solutions can be developed to issues facing the City.  The presence and energy of the participants in turn helps to revitalize the City and has a multiplier effect as more like-minded individuals want to be part of the City’s transformation.

From the Chrysler perspective, the Challenge Detroit program provides us with access to talent with the potential to become leaders both in the community and at the company. They have the drive and passion to not only do the right thing from the business perspective, but also to have a positive impact on the local area. 

Bob Grosvenor - VP, HR Manager at Team Detroit

There is a realization that what you hear is over-blown. I’m not originally from here. I heard it all, the same things - high crime, not safe, on the decline, part of the Rust Belt. When people get here and see the Detroit area they see the significant investment downtown, more companies coming here, two large sport complexes and retails business around it. Our follow through, Challenge Detroit saw the potential. It’s not as bad as the news. It’s a growing city with lots of potential. The Detroit arts and music scene is thriving. There are signs of community rebirth with cultural rebirth. Come here. See it. It’s not what you think. 

For us - the company is more involved. It has opened our eyes and we are now getting involved more with more programs. 

David Whitman - Manager, Innovation Exchange Solutions at General Motors

Challenge Detroit is a perfect example of how a local group is not waiting for someone else to come along and work towards addressing some of the challenges that face the city. Specifically, Challenge is helping to keep the great local talent that we have here and also working to attract outside talent to the area. 

Regarding why the efforts of Challenge Detroit are important to GM, I think it all comes down to building communities. A thriving downtown and city center will only strengthen the businesses that operate there. Doing so by providing a place that retains the local talent as well as attracts new and emerging talent.

On the other side of the equation is that successful businesses provide a lot of direct and indirect support to the local economy, not just through the individuals employed by the company but also through the local merchants and other businesses that are supported by these individuals. I don’t think that the two are mutually exclusive. In fact, I think the argument could be made that in order for the community (city and businesses) to reach their full potential that they are mutually inclusive.

So as one of the larger employers located downtown it is important for GM to be an active member of the community and work with various groups and organizations around the city to make both our city and the businesses that operate in it successful. The opportunity to partner with Challenge Detroit is just one example of our efforts to build and strengthen our community here in Detroit.

There really is a lot to love about Detroit and I think we need to do a better job telling that story.

Thomas Willis - CEO at Cornerstone Charter Schools

It changes the narrative. I have the privilege of traveling all over the country. The questions pops up, “Where you are from?” There is shock or sadness when you say Detroit. I make a joke about it. Detroit is in the center of the world. It’s becoming cool for the next generation to come here. Nowhere else can you buy a city block for pennies and turn into [a place for] thriving pioneers. 

We’re trying to think differently about education, partnering with forward thinking organizations. Challenge Detroit was a great success in our first year. We have an extended an offer for the second year as well. Young people are altruistic. They want to change the world. They don’t need to go to India or elsewhere. They can help a city right here. 

Matt Mosher - CEO at

For the city, it’s a great way to showcase many of the things that are happening that wouldn’t generally be seen. They are taking on a number of projects that are bringing a positive light to areas that need to be addressed

We have been blessed to get the brightest individuals in the country to come work for us. It has allowed us to take our company further.

In order for a city to sustain growth, living situation, after work activities, a whole fundamental core is what it takes. It’s important to have organizations bring focus. A city needs to provide what individuals want in their lives and Detroit is well on its way to doing that. 

Jeff Barrett is the CEO of Status Creative, a Forbes Top 50 Social Media Influencer, 2012 PRNewswire Award Winner for “Best Use of Video In Social Media” and record holder for Most Strikeouts in Tee-Ball. 


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Jeff Barrett

Jeff Barrett is an experienced columnist and business leader. He has been named Business Insider’s #1 Ad Executive on Twitter, a Forbes Top 50 Influencer In Social Media and has previously written for Mashable and The Detroit Free Press. 



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