Posted on January 22, 2009 by Ben Connard

The January 12, 2008 Sports Illustrated has a well written article by longtime Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom titled “The Courage of Detroit.” As the title suggests, Albom describes the cities inhabitants as a determined group willing to work through the current down cycle. We are supposed to admire their courage and feel sympathetic towards their plight.

He explains that their willingness to stick through the bad times is a point of pride. We are supposed to admire this defiance. However, the current malaise of the auto industry is as bad as anyone has seen and signs of a recovery are slim. Albom points out that any mature city goes through its down times, but eventually new industry moves and things begin to grow again. This has not happened in Detroit. We now feel sympathetic.

No explanation is given for Detroit’s lack of growth and inability to attract new industries. Part of the reason is the automakers need to dramatically redraw their business model. This has not happened, partly because of the defiance Albom points to with such pride. No new industries have come to Detroit. Conversely, Albom insults Southern states for attracting new industry (foreign auto companies) by handing out tax breaks. This attitude does not increase my sympathy for those in Detroit.

But perhaps tax breaks are a good idea. Attracting new business with tax breaks may jump start industry in a city. Could Detroit try this approach?

The article closes with Albom watching the Clint Eastwood movie Gran Torino. The movie was filmed in Detroit because, low and behold, the city gave tax incentives to lure the producers to Detroit. The city is trying to escape its direct ties to the auto industry.

I found this conclusion ironic. Albom blasts other cities for attracting foreign car companies with tax breaks, then less than a page later offers hope for Detroit through tax breaks. I can admire Detroit’s willingness to try and attract new industries. Perhaps this industry diversification should have been tried before, instead of standing in defiance as the auto companies’ bled money.