One of my favorite motivational speakers is “See You at the Top” author Zig Ziglar.
He believes the key to what every human wants is simple: We all want to be happy, healthy, reasonably prosperous and secure, have good family relationships, friends and above all we want [and need] hope. He is so right. I think of that recitation often as I drive around the City of Detroit.
What this city lacks more than anything is something resembling hope. Thousands of people who can’t read or write, have not finished High School or even if they have, they’ve been educated in what can only be described as the worst school system in the nation, have no chance at a job. And it is not like jobs outside Downtown Detroit are exactly plentiful. So what we end up with is a large population subsisting any way it can. It end ups lacking just about everything on Zig’s list and without any hope, despair sets in. Desperation can be found at the heart of almost all of Detroit’s problems, crime, violence, drugs, gangs, child abuse and ignominious death. Many believe Detroit will never return to its once great status. It is difficult looking over this sad landscape to argue the point.
In a drought though, even a thimble full of water can make a tiny difference. That is what I saw today in the City of Detroit at the Detroit Manufacturing Systems plant off the Southfield Expressway just north of the I-96 interchange in the old and formerly abandoned Gateway Industrial complex. Here over the past three months Andra Rush has gone to work with a team of five hundred Detroiters and started building auto parts. Their first customer is Ford. They build dashboard panels for the Taurus, Navigator, Mustang and Expedition and will eventually make interiors for the F-150 pick up truck. This is what made Detroit great and might just again.
It is important to point out here Andra Rush could have put her plant [partnered with French auto parts supplier Faurecia] anywhere she wanted. She chose Detroit for a very interesting reason. She is Native American. She said one of the most influential experiences of her life was visiting her grandmother on an Indian Reservation. She was struck by the abject poverty and the poor health issues she saw there. She says she vowed then and there to try and make a difference not only for Native Americans in poverty but anyone in a “concrete reservation” as she put it. Her trucking company Rush Trucking started in Detroit in the 1980’s with a couple of used clunkers and a maxed out credit card. She grew her business and when she saw her opportunity to “make it to the top” to her there was no question where she would do it.
Now, I’ve covered the auto industry for more than 20 years and I have been to many hundreds of plant openings like this one. Surely there are few businesses more fragile than an auto supplier. Nowhere was that more evident than during the auto industry collapse. Consider that these parts DMS is now making were moved from another plant and those workers may or may not have survived the change. So putting five hundred jobs in a vacant auto plant is not exactly a big deal in the scheme of the overall industry. For all anyone knows DMS could be gone tomorrow with even a minor shift in car buyer tastes or a precipitous sales drop off. Yet for Detroit, its hopeless residents and the people taking on the thankless task of trying to rebuild Detroit, this is big and important if only symbolically. GM and Toyota appear interested in working with Andre Rush. There are hundreds of thousands of square feet of open space in the Gateway complex sitting dormant waiting for machinery and newly trained auto workers. Andra’s dream is to triple the size of her workforce over the next couple of years. That kind of success would be notable and enormously helpful in bringing the city the one thing is lacks most. Here’s to hoping Andra Rush can keep this hope alive.