This fascinating article is about how Alibaba, the world’s biggest online commerce company with transactions last year totaling $248 billion (more than those of eBay and Amazon.com combined), came to Detroit this month to hold an important presentation. Jack Ma, its charismatic founder and executive chairman, spoke about how the company plans to add a million U.S. jobs by motivating American firms to sell to Chinese customers and companies.
When I saw that such a huge company decided to come to Detroit to hold this unique and unprecedented presentation, I was really surprised. Alibaba could have easily gone to the Silicon Valley or Seattle, next to its “American competitor” Amazon. Jennifer Kuperman, Alibaba’s Head of International Corporate Communications explained that Detroit was chosen because of its mid-west proximity to both a “high concentration of US farms and small business product marketers”. However, the article notes that symbolically, the selection of Alibaba’s conference venue draws a parallel between the “economic renaissance” of Detroit and how the Chinese company wants to “re-energize” business growth for American companies by increasing sales to China.
This article emphasized how Detroit is becoming a place for entrepreneurs and small business owners. It echoes the work of my community partner, Build Institute. Indeed, Christianne the manager, attended the Alibaba meeting and told me that Alibaba offers a mix of services between Amazon and Etsy, the e-commerce focused on handmade and vintage items. Build Institute actually offers the “Etsy Craft Entrepreneurship” program that trains underemployed or low income adults with creative skills. Will Build’s graduates one day be able to sell their products not only in Detroit and the U.S. but also China?
While doing research for my job I have also come across a lot of information on different small incubators, similar to Build, that help motivated Detroit entrepreneurs grow their idea into successful businesses. According to the Kauffman Index, Detroit is the 26th country in the US with the highest percentage of adult population that owns a business as their main job. There are many opportunities and events to help promote entrepreneurship in the city such as the “Detroit Entrepreneur Week”. Finally, I really believe that collaborative aspect of Detroit is unique and will allow the city to continue growing at a tremendous pace.