Detroit makes pitch for ousted Yahoo employees

In an ongoing effort to rebrand itself, Detroit tries to lure high-tech talent

Quicken Loans and two affiliated Detroit venture capital firms have issued a call for the roughly 2,000 Yahoo employees who received pink slips last week to move to the Motor City to bolster the blighted city's efforts at revitalization.

The firms will set up initial phone interviews for interested candidates and follow up with in-person interviews at a Palo Alto recruiting event in May.

The companies claim that Detroit is experiencing a tech boom, pointing to Twitter's recent decision to open an office in Detroit, primarily to sell advertising to the automotive industry. Twitter will rent space in the M@dison Building, a converted theater that now bills itself as a tech incubator.

Josh Linkner, the CEO of Detroit Venture Partners, said there are 300 to 500 open tech jobs at Quicken Loans and other companies backed by his venture capital firm and Rockbridge Growth Equity, an equity firm run by Quicken CEO and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. Detroit Venture partners has put up a website called Valley to Detroit to support its efforts to bring Yahoo talent to the Motor City.

Linkner said that demand for tech employees in Detroit currently outpaces supply. Denise Lidell, the CEO of High-Tech Professionals, a staffing company, agreed.

Linkner suggested that Detroit's latest effort to diversify its economy is in keeping with the city's history.

"A hundred years ago, Detroit was the Silicon Valley of the day. This is where people from all around the world, the best and the brightest, came to launch their entrepreneurial businesses and to build incredible technology of the day," he said.

There is a vital movement within the city to reinvent Detroit. But much of the city's appeal for young people, artists and entrepreneurs comes from low rents, and those reflect a darker side of the city. Vacancy rates are as high as 50 percent in some areas, according to the Data Driven Detroit project.

"We're in the midst of a massive transformation, and it doesn't happen overnight," Linkner acknowledged. "But for me the exciting part is moving in at an earlier stage instead of coming when the city is totally established; it's getting in at a point where you get to be part of that transformation."

Detroit's tech firms will have to hope that Yahoo employees haven't heard that pitch too many times before.

Cameron Scott covers search, web services and privacy for The IDG News Service. Follow Cameron on Twitter at CScott_IDG.

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