Dearborn Michigan is a community where neighbors still greet each other by name and younger generations choose to stay and raise their children on the same block where they were raised. “This is the kind of place where people grow up and then start their families here,” says Dearborn Area Chamber President Jackie Lovejoy. “They live four doors down from their folks; the elementary school teachers that thought them teach their kids. We really are hometown America.”
The Detroit suburb is the birthplace of Henry Ford and the traditional location of his operations. The city of 100,000 residents and 140,000 employee residents continues to build on its long history of automotive and steel manufacturing, making it a major center for employment while also serving as a regional center for healthcare, higher education, shopping, and tourism.
Both large and small businesses flourish in Dearborn. “We are a unique chamber in that we are about a 50/50 mix between big business and small business. Most chambers are an 80/20 proposition… We have a little bit of everything at the chamber! Many big box and corporate stores are members including Home Depot, PF Chang’s, Bravo, Wal-Mart and Starbucks, as well as small unique businesses like Dearborn Brewing, Village Picture Framing & Art Gallery, and a variety of eateries, boutiques and spas. Our restaurants are varied from the elegant to sandwich fare, from Tria at the Henry Hotel, to Bankgkok 96, Stadium Hotdogs, Andiamo’s steak house, and of course a huge array of Middle Eastern cuisine. We even have four sushi restaurants that are thriving!”
This mix of small and big business provides an ideal support system. “If you need help, we have the big business connections,” Ms. Lovejoy explains. “I always say to my chamber members, ‘this is your board of directors too; if you need help with something I can connect you.’” Big businesses that are chamber members, on the other hand, have all the advantages of a “test market” at their disposal, keeping large corporations in touch with their consumers.
In addition to employment opportunities, the city boasts the amenities that people seek. “Whatever someone is looking for, we’ve got it,” states Mayor John B. O’Reilly, Jr. “We try to make sure that we can offer all the things that people want and attract good talent.” With Ford Motor Company and other local giants looking for top notch engineers and developers, “we want to make sure that we are offering the kind of environment, city services, and opportunities that will be attractive to people who are being recruited by our businesses.”
City leaders have transformed Dearborn into a walkable city with an extensive network of jogging and biking trails, two bustling downtowns, 43 public parks, and six outdoor swimming pools. In addition to downtown retail opportunities, the city boasts a large regional mall as well as small, eclectic shops. Artistry abounds throughout the city, and residents can get in on the action at local favorites like the Glass Academy, where customers blow glass alongside experts or pick up handmade glassworks at the gallery.
Dearborn has a weekly farmers market where farmers and artisans showcase their wares, giving residents an opportunity to purchase everything from fresh produce to handmade soaps and sausages. Outdoor summer concerts and food truck rallies attract up to 2,000 people, while the city’s annual Homecoming festival brings in 20,000 each day to enjoy carnival attractions, fireworks, local foods, and music.
Dearborn is home to The Henry Ford Museum, Michigan’s number one tourist attraction and the largest indoor / outdoor museum complex in the United States. A nine-acre indoor museum showcases the inventions of Americans past and present, from racecars and airplanes to microprocessors. The 240-acre Greenfield Village is a living history museum with over 100 historical buildings that were painstakingly relocated to the site, as well as old fashioned transportation options for guests to experience, from an authentic steam locomotive to a horse drawn omnibus. “It is fascinating to be so steeped in history,” Ms. Lovejoy remarks. Visitors to the complex can also catch a glimpse of how automobiles are manufactured past and present on the Ford F-150 Rouge Factory Tour, featuring the world’s largest living “green” roof, or catch the latest movie in the IMAX theater.
In addition, Dearborn is home to The Arab American National Museum, the first and only museum in the United States devoted to Arab American history and culture. The immigrant story plus the accomplishments of famous Arab Americans including Tom Selleck and Danny Thomas are featured. The city also boasts fine dining, multiple golf courses, and a country club founded by Henry Ford. Education is top notch, with Dearborn public schools enjoying consistently high rankings and statewide recognition. “Dearborn public schools have provided the state of Michigan with their last three superintendents,” Ms. Lovejoy points out. Also a college town, Dearborn is home to around 40,000 college students attending University of Michigan Dearborn and Henry Ford College, “the most diverse community college nationwide.”
Dearborn’s location within the state of Michigan is an additional boon. “It is a beautiful state, a majestic state,” Ms. Lovejoy remarks. “If you like snow skiing, water skiing, horseback riding, gardening, if you are a history buff; Michigan is a place that has a little bit of everything for everybody.” Furthermore, the city’s convenient placement within the southeastern region of the state means that “everything is 30 to 40 minutes from everything else.” Mr. O’Reilly adds, “We are less than ten minutes to the airport, less than ten minutes to the bridge to Canada, and have extensive access to the main thoroughfares. We are very well situated.” Dearborn also has access to a deep water port developed for the Ford Motor Company.
Transportation will be even better next year, when a new high speed rail opens that will connect Dearborn to Chicago and other key Midwestern locations. Light rail to Detroit will also be available from the new train station, providing easy access to Detroit’s attractions. “People can leave their cars here, hop a train and run downtown see a Tigers game,” Ms. Lovejoy points out.
City services are topnotch in Dearborn, and local leaders have ensured that transportation remains unhampered, even in the toughest storms. When it comes to snowplowing, “we are known as one of the communities that gets there right away,” says Mr. O’Reilly. “We are big on mobility. You are always going to get where you need to be when you need to be there.” The City of Dearborn provides old-fashioned hometown support in other areas of need, as well. For instance, during a weeklong power outage last summer, residents were given free access to dry ice in order to keep their freezers functioning.
Dearborn hit a snag during the Global Financial Crisis, but the city is already back on its feet. “The recession hit us hard,” Ms. Lovejoy shares. “In June 2014, we had a 38 percent vacancy rate of our retail on Michigan Avenue.” Just one year later, however, that vacancy rate has fallen below 19 percent. New shops and restaurants are moving into downtown and people are eager to move forward. The secret to this rebound is “tenacity,” Ms. Lovejoy insists. “We went through this in the 70s too, with that recession. You roll up your sleeves and you go to work and sometimes you work two jobs; that is what we do. So when times start to come back, everyone is a little bit tougher, a little bit smarter, a little bit more appreciative of all the good things that come down the road.”
As Dearborn’s revival gains ground, the city is taking on an increasingly hip, artistic vibe, from craft breweries and galleries to a new live / work space for local artists and their families located in the heart of downtown. “Artspace is a fantastic addition,” says Ms. Lovejoy. In a bid to improve East Dearborn’s economic base, the East Dearborn Downtown Development Authority is helping to create the $16.5 million mixed-use arts campus in the old city hall building. With 53 affordable housing / work units, incubator space for entrepreneurs and artists, office space for businesses and nonprofits, studios, and galleries, City Hall Artspace Lofts will be a new anchor for the region’s creative economy, building upon the area’s historical foundation as an international center for innovation and invention.
An increasing number of people are visiting Dearborn as well, particularly to attend conventions. “In 2012, the southeast Michigan region had four major conventions with more than 2,000 attendees [per convention],” Ms. Lovejoy reports. “In 2015 we have more than 15 on the books – and that is just in the summer months.” Moreover, the average number of attendees per conference has skyrocketed to between 10,000 and 30,000, supplying a steady stream of visitors who are spending their dollars in Dearborn. “Downtown Detroit does not have enough hotel rooms, so we are the lucky recipients of a lot of spillover.” Ideal for hosting corporate functions, the Henry Ford Museum also draws convention guests.
As the birthplace of the automobile, Dearborn is blessed with a long history of innovation, invention, and can-do attitude. The community’s solid work ethic and resiliency are still in place today, as is Dearborn’s hometown, all-American spirit. After surviving the recession, the city is in the midst of an exciting rebound as residents come together to ensure that Dearborn continues to live up to its full potential.