Dan Gilbert: Detroit lost Amazon bid due to 'negative reputation,' not talent shortage

Dan Gilbert speaks at the groundbreaking for a skyscraper on the site of the old Hudson's building in Detroit, Dec. 14, 2017. (WDIV)

DETROIT – Billionaire businessman Dan Gilbert lead Detroit's proposal to be the next home for Amazon last year -- but Amazon wasn't impressed.

Amazon released their list of the 20 finalists for their second North American headquarters last week and Detroit was left off.

The bid promised a Detroit with millions of new square footage, not just for Amazon offices, but in residential and retail space. There would have been expanded mass transit if they came, and even a ferry service between Amazon offices in Detroit and Windsor.

At the time, Gilbert released a statement saying: We are not deterred in any way, shape or form. Detroit is the most exciting city in the country right now and the momentum continues to build every single day. We have no doubt our best days are ahead of us. There are numerous large and small deals you will continue to see develop into reality in the months and years ahead."

On Wednesday, Gilbert released an email, detailing the reasons why he believes Detroit was left off the list. Here's some of what he wrote:

You may be asking yourself: “If Detroit scored well on most other criteria, then why would the lack of mass transportation alone eliminate us from making the top 20?” 

After all, there are cities that made the list that are also missing adequate mass transit or other significant pieces of Amazon’s required criteria such as a major airport.

So, what is the elephant in the room?

We are still dealing with the unique radioactive-like reputational fallout of 50-60 years of economic decline, disinvestment, municipal bankruptcy, and all of the other associated negative consequences of that extraordinarily long period of time.

This lingering, negative perception has unfortunately survived our impressive progress over the last several years. It is clear that we don’t do ourselves any favors by feeding the pessimistic narrative about Detroit and our region, when this view is not anywhere near the balanced, full story. I believe this is the single largest obstacle that we face.

Outstanding state-of-the-art videos, well-packaged and eye- catching proposals, complex and generous tax incentives and highly compelling and improving metrics cannot nor will not overcome the strong negative connotations that the Detroit brand still needs to conquer.

Old, negative reputations do not die easily.

What is the solution to finally overcome the chasm between Detroit’s reputation and reality?

It will take many strategies and tactics to overcome this fundamental challenge.

One highly -effective remedy to the fallout of a half century or more of reputational damage is to bring people physically HERE to see, touch and feel the excitement, opportunity, growth and reality that is the Detroit of 2018 and beyond.

We have witnessed for ourselves, time after time, those who have recently visited the Motor City leave with a completely turned around, positive impression of our city. An impression that is light-years closer to reality than the old narrative.

There are many innovative people already in this region who are capable of developing creative strategies and tactics required to attract people to Detroit and the area.

Once we get them here, we’ve got them.

The good news is, all of the blood, sweat, and tears that went into this monumental effort will not go to waste. This process has allowed us to curate and package our region in a way that has never been done before.
Undoubtedly, this will be extraordinarily valuable to the many opportunities that are coming our way on an almost daily basis.

Much appreciation and gratitude for the time and talent that you contributed to this valiant effort. I am not sure there has been such a collaborative, purposeful and unified initiative in this region, in all of our lifetimes.

Let this mark the beginning of a new era of how Detroit does business…

Move Here. Move the World.

Dan Gilbert

Read the full statement below:

About the Author:

Ken Haddad has proudly been with WDIV/ClickOnDetroit since 2013. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters, and helps lead the WDIV Insider team. He's a big sports fan and is constantly sipping Lions Kool-Aid.