Report from Techonomy Detroit: Can Technology Rebuild the Middle Class?

Though members of the so-called middle class weren’t necessarily in the room at yesterday’s Techonomy Detroit conference, they seemed to be on a lot of attendees’ minds. One recurring theme to the day’s programming was the idea of utilizing technology as a democratizing agent to give people better access to education, jobs, government services, and investment capital.

Techonomy Detroit, an “annual gathering to celebrate how technology can drive economic growth in the United States and speed development and rebirth in Detroit,” converged for its second year yesterday. Held on the campus of Wayne State University, thought leaders from around the city, state, and world were on hand for panel discussions about a range of topics.

Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert, Michigan governor Rick Snyder, Detroit Venture Partners’ CEO Josh Linkner, Venture for America CEO Andrew Yang, Rethink Robotics chief technology officer Rodney Brooks, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, and executives from Ford, GM, Dow Chemical, Apigee, Shapeways, the Case Foundation, and more were on hand as panelists.

A panel discussion titled “Connecting Detroit: 8 Mile to Downtown” tackled the issue of Detroit’s digital divide and how the city’s rising entrepreneurial class needs to make an effort to spread opportunities to all corners of Detroit.

Participating in the panel discussion were Matt Clayson, director of the Detroit Creative Corridor Center; Catherine Kelly, publisher of the Michigan Citizen; Brandon Jessup, CEO of the Michigan Forward Urban Affairs Group; and Brian Mulloy, vice president of Apigee.

Mulloy said city government needs to treat the construction of a digital infrastructure the same way it would our physical infrastructure, like our highways or electrical grid. “We have to place the same value on data and get the message out there that it’s just as important as concrete,” he said.

But even with an infrastructure in place, Jessup pointed out, it won’t matter unless all Detroiters truly feel like technology is an important tool that they, too, can use. “It’s not just getting people to engage with technology, but to become creators,” she noted. “It shouldn’t just be a passive experience.”

In the local urban community, Jessup said, there aren’t too many trusted sources of information: a handful of politicians, perhaps, and church leaders. “Our leadership … Next Page »

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