Detroit Regional Chamber > Chamber > Detroit Experiences Blue-Collar Boom

Detroit Experiences Blue-Collar Boom

June 13, 2023

Michigan Chronicle
Andrea Plaid
June 9, 2023


Detroit is witnessing a blue-collar boom.

Dana Williams, the chief strategy officer of Detroit at Work, said that construction/infrastructure has been one of Detroit at Work’s target industries for Detroiters to train for and work in for the past 5 years. The second-largest industry that Detroit at Work assists with in finding workers is manufacturing and mobility, meaning businesses such as car companies and public transportation.

According to a 2023 report released by Detroit Future City, one of the growth occupations—which the organization defines as jobs that experienced a rate of growth that is the same or greater than the overall region between 2014 and 2019, an increase in wages during the same period, whose median wage is $25 per hour and employs at least 300 people in the area—is electricians.

Another report—this one from the Detroit Regional Chamber—stated that jobs in manufacturing, construction, transportation and warehousing, wholesale trade, food service and hospitality and retail make up 41.1 percent of the 2.5 million positions in 2022.

Dr. Kenneth Harris, president/CEO of the National Business League, told the Chronicle that one-half of the Black-owned companies in Detroit are blue-collar industries, as the ones mentioned above.

The recent mass-hiring drives by Amazon and McDonald’s in the city created something of a recruitment bubble in the midst of those same corporations laying off their tech and other white-collar workers.

The uptick in blue-collar jobs in Detroit is in line with the larger national pattern. Part of this is the ongoing shedding of tech jobs, which is making people reconsider manufacturing and other manual work for stability, both in terms of the duration of the work and the paycheck. Another factor is that the Biden administration has made a concerted effort to create such wage-earning jobs in areas like infrastructure.

Detroit’s infrastructure boom comes from the substantial investments in the renovation of commercial buildings, residential properties and public spaces. The revitalization efforts have not only improved the overall aesthetics of the city but have also attracted new businesses and investments. This, in turn, has created a demand for skilled workers in construction, architecture and related trades. The revitalization projects have breathed new life into Detroit, providing a foundation for sustainable economic growth.

The city’s revival as a hub for skilled labor and manufacturing is reshaping its future, offering hope and opportunities for its residents.

One of the key factors driving Detroit’s blue-collar boom is the diversification of industries. While the automotive sector still plays a vital role, the city has expanded its focus to other industries such as technology, renewable energy and advanced manufacturing. Companies like Shinola have invested in Detroit, creating job opportunities for skilled workers. Car companies like GM have also poured money into the city with a vision of producing electric vehicles. The companies recognize the city’s potential, its pool of talented individuals and the advantage of its geographical location within the Midwest.

Detroit’s blue-collar boom would not be possible without a skilled and adaptable workforce. The city has a rich tradition of craftsmanship and manufacturing, and many residents possess the necessary skills and expertise required in the modern job market. Additionally, various training programs and initiatives have emerged to provide specialized education and apprenticeships to upskill and reskill workers. Organizations like Focus: HOPE and Detroit at Work are equipping individuals with the necessary tools and knowledge to thrive in today’s industries. By bridging the gap between job seekers and employers—and with the revival of pro-union action and laws, like the repeal of Michigan’s right-to-work–these programs are playing and will play a crucial role in Detroit’s resurgence.

“Together with our union partners, we know that a career in the skilled trades is a solid one with many opportunities right here in our city,” Williams stated.

The collaboration between industry leaders and government agencies has been instrumental in Detroit’s blue-collar boom. Public-private partnerships have been formed to support job creation and promote economic development. The Detroit Economic Growth Corporation and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation have been working closely with businesses to provide incentives and facilitate expansion. The government has also implemented policies to support workforce development and attract investment. The alignment of interests between industry and government has created a conducive environment for growth and has strengthened Detroit’s position as a hub for blue-collar jobs.

Detroit’s blue-collar boom has not only been driven by large corporations but also by the entrepreneurial spirit and grassroots initiatives within the community. Local residents—especially Black residents, according to Harris–have taken matters into their own hands, starting small businesses and revitalizing neighborhoods. The city has seen the rise of makerspaces, co-working spaces, and innovation hubs that foster collaboration and creativity. Community organizations like Detroit SOUP and TechTown Detroit have provided platforms for aspiring entrepreneurs to showcase their ideas and receive support. This bottom-up approach has added a dynamic and diverse element to Detroit’s revitalization.