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Tale Of Two Cities: Thriving Businesses Manufacturing In Detroit

DETROIT (WWJ) - It's a phenomenon that's hard to miss: Some call it the "Tale of Two Cities" unfolding in Detroit.

As the city itself staggers under a crushing multi-billion dollar long-term debt, some business sectors are thriving.

WWJ Newsradio 950's Marie Osborne reports that, until recently construction sounds were not sounds you often heard in the city of Detroit. Now, construction noise is part of the cityscape.

Anne Perr-Alt and a partner started Avalon Bakery in a run down, desolate corner of the Cass Corridor in 1997. It quickly became clear the neighborhood wanted what they were making.

"Just when we started baking - people started appearing," said Perr-Alt. "And wanted product and we weren't even to the point where we had product we wanted to sell, and they were like 'let me buy it' and would throw money at us."

Today the bakery has expanded to include a 33,000 square foot bake house on the city's east side. With 100 new employee, near the original location, they've created a new retail space.

"You know this is a time where a lot of people are investing in Detroit. There's a lot of businesses that are investing in Detroit. We just happen to be in a position where there has been an undergroud movement of people supporting urban farming, local growing, healthy eating," she added. "It's one of the reasons we moved to this exact spot was the Cass Corridor Food Co-op was in business for 15 years before we came, and it was a three million dollar business on the corner of Cass and Forest way back in 1997."

"That's a prosperous business in the city of Detroit and a health food store, so there is a commitment in Detroit for eating healthy and I think there are a lot of people that want to do that and now we see even a Whole Foods moving into our neighborhood," Perr-Alt said.

Avalon preceded dozens of new start-ups in the area.

Heath Carr, the head of Dallas based Shinola, brought the production of his company's unique line of watches, bikes and leather goods to Detroit.

Carr said he'd considered about a dozen other cities, before settling here.

"We were excited about the positive energy about the future," Carr said. "You can obviously get in a car and drive around and see the history in Detroit within five minutes. But one of the things that really drew us to here is the energy and movement forward and the future and where Detroit is going."

This year's watch production target for Shinola is 45,000 watches, but that's just a start, according to Carr.

Components are shipped from around the U.S. and assembled in Detroit.

"We have the ability to take the space that we are standing in today, which is the office of design, and we can turn this into manufacturing as well. Basically, 30,000 sq ft today - double the size of our space. Which would get us to just over a million units," he said.

Early returns are positive. Shinola sold a limited-edition round of 2,500 watches in less than a week, earlier this year.

By now Carr said he's used to the question: "Why Detroit?"

"Why not Detroit? How could we not do this here?" he said.

WWJ Newsradio 950's Marie Osborne reports on the changing landscape in the city of Detroit in her series "Tale of Two Cities" this week. Listen on WWJ Newsradio 950 and come back to each day for more. 

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