At an Inforum event last week I met Kerry Doman, founder and CEO of After 5 Detroit, an online resource for events and activities in the metro region. We met for a coffee date Friday morning and had a great time. It was that rare occasion when you click with a person and it feels like you’ve known them for a lot longer than a couple hours.
Kerry is a native suburbanite who followed the trend of southeastern Michigan youth and spent time in Chicago. After life in the big city it was difficult to adjust to life in metro Detroit. The D was very different a decade ago. It was easy to live in the burbs and only visit the city for sports games. The number of restaurants, shops and activities were minimal. The metro region offered more, but the lack of a central city resulted in no comprehensive resource to let people know where to go. Identifying this need, Kerry took action and started After 5.
Like the city itself, After 5 has grown and evolved over the years. Connect After 5 allows employers to help their staff feel connected and engaged with the city and their colleagues. The After 5 Intern program is a series of summer events that introduces the city to a whole new audience and helps businesses attract and retain high quality talent. At the end of the summer, over 600 interns will attend a networking dinner with over 50 local leaders in the business and the community. Students will have the chance to meet with top executives they may not otherwise have the opportunity to talk with, and the business community can showcase the value of keeping top-talent in Detroit.
Tonight I’ll be attending an After 5 Social Club event and checking out a new Detroit spot, Crane’s on Broadway. For $5 guests get one drink (beer or wine), snack platters, and the chance to mingle with like minded young professionals – you can’t beat that.
As I said, it was very easy to talk with Kerry and I was excited to learn more about her thoughts on the city. We share a passion for Detroit and it was interesting to gain her perspective.
What motivated you to start After 5?
I started it out of my own personal need to find out what to do in and where to go throughout metro Detroit and downtown Detroit. I grew up in the suburbs and didn’t know much about the city and I think that still resonates with a lot of our suburbanites. I wanted to create a resource that allowed me to explore the city in a fun, safe and unique way.
How has Detroit changed in the last nine years?
Detroit has gone through an incredible change. Just the amount of people, the new life style amenities – whether it’s bars or restaurants or barber shops or shops alone. It’s an incredible transformation and we’re excited to be part of it.
How have younger Detroiters changed?
We have seen younger Detroiters become so much more excited about being in this city. Much more intrigued about what it would look to live, work and play in the city. When we first started our intern program five years ago it was very much to help companies attract and retain top talent because they were training them and prepared to hire them but they would lose them at the end of the summer because the interns wanted the big city lights and the lifestyle a Chicago or New York could hold for them. Now everyone is so much more excited to find out what is going on down here, to be engaged, to meet new people and start going out and stay for a drink after the Tigers game. That’s a huge change and what we find is that when they become more engaged in the community and the lifestyle here they create more ties for themselves – whether they make new friends, fall in love, love their jobs, love this city, whatever it is – that is inevitably what’s going to keep them here.
What are three reasons a young professional should choose Detroit over a city like Chicago?
You hear it a lot and our governor says it a lot: you can move to Detroit and be someone or you can move to Chicago and just be another yuppie. It’s very true. You can come here and be a big fish in a small pond because it’s a tight knit community – a small, big city. Those that are here, they really want to be here. They’re invested, not only in living here but building that community and supporting their local shops and coffee shops and bars. It’s a much different feel than going to a large city where you’re just another number.
That also relates to job opportunities too – jobs, boards and community involvement. You can have a higher level of involvement here in this city than in other cities. I sit on several boards and I know so many organizations are looking for talented young professionals to join them. In other cities it’s all CEO’s and top executives, but here in Detroit there is a concerted effort to get younger people involved at a higher level.
And you truly get to be involved in the revitalization of a major city. That’s what’s the best part of what we started nine years ago. We have seen this transition, maybe we’re not full circle quite yet but we’re getting there. We can see the change with every day, every year. And if we stay on the same path that we’ve been on for the last nine years, for the next nine years…it’s an incredible place to be.
What do you think the city can do to draw more people in?
Not to toot our own horn but what we’re doing with the intern program, it really is servicing a need. There is a need for companies to attract and retain top young talent. If they’re not pulling from the top, they’re pulling from the bottom and that’s not going to expand your economic horizon – not only for this region but these companies. We need to show them that there is a lifestyle and job opportunities, we need to keep them here. We need to do a better job of highlighting the job opportunities that are here and touting the lifestyle opportunity that is available. Get them engaged, just don’t tell them – ‘oh Detroit is cool, it’s coming back’. Make them come downtown, let them experience it. Those experiences change perceptions and perceptions are reality. At the loft party we do, they see how cool it is and that changes perceptions – suddenly it’s cool to be here.
There are a lot of young people, but the young people nine years ago are adults and in a different stage of life. What about families?
Yes that’s the [soapbox] I’m trying to be on to motivate people to continue this conversation and I’m not the only one. There are people who are farther ahead than me, that have families, and I’m so happy and so proud of the work they are doing. There’s a group out of Indian Village and Lafayette Park and they’re going to all these schools and evaluating them and figuring out what are the issues, talking to the school administrators and really trying to raise the value of an education in the city. I am nipping at their heals thanking them for doing that because by the time I have a family I will be calling them for all those notes.
It’s a chicken and an egg. The more families you have, the higher demand for a higher education that there is – we’re here and we want to be here but we need to demand a higher set of education values. But you need the higher set of education values to retain those families. That’s the biggest thing. We focus a lot on young professions but a common sales tactic is that if you can elongate a sale…we are working so hard on this demographic that will inevitably get married and have kids – if we only focus on this portion on the young professional and we don’t figure out the next two or three steps, we’re just going to have to resell and resell. So this is something we really need to focus on and unfortunately education is a huge part of it and it’s a huge undertaking but we need to focus on it; otherwise, we’ll continue to have people moving out at rapid rates when we could keep them here and build out our population base.
After 5 offers an endless number of places to check out and I decided to ask Kerry for her top personal picks.
Favorite Restaurant: I love Selden Standard but I looove Wright & Co. From the drinks to the food to the hospitality, they do it right. The Selden Standard is equally as cool with incredible food as well. More off the beaten path, I love Le Petit Zinc. I love it. It’s not uncommon for me to go there and treat myself when I have a day where I’m like, “I’m going to have lunch at my favorite place.” Especially in the spring and summer when you can sit outside on the patio. It’s one of my favorites, they do a really good job.
Favorite shop: I love City Bird. Every baby in my life gets a Detroit bib or onesie. I tend to go there for a lot of gifts.
Favorite artist/art gallery: Library Street Collective and what they’re doing downtown. They are having such an impact on the transformation of our city in an art related aspect. Not only did they start a fine art gallery in this city three years ago when people thought they were crazy for starting a fine art gallery in the city. The gallery is doing phenomenally well and brings in top international artists to Detroit in a capacity no one else has been able to do. They are responsible for the Belt Alley and the mural on the side of Compuware. They are forcing us to think about space and art in a different way. Go through the Z-Lot and on every level there is a different artist painted walls inside a parking garage. That easily could have been numbers and colors telling you what floor you are on but they brought in 27 well-known muralist to paint different levels.