Profile: Detroit, Michigan

Learn more about Motor City's history and what drives its economy today.
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A view of the Detroit skyine as seen across water.

Population: 4.5 million (metropolitan statistical area)

USDA Hardiness Zone: 6

Major airport: Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport

Companies with a Major Presence: Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp., Chrysler, Borders Books and Music, Kelly Services, Lear Corp., La-Z-Boy, Federal-Mogul, Compuware, Domino’s and Little Caesars.

Detroit is a sprawling, big-hearted and underrated gem of a city. When you talk about Detroit, you have to talk about the metro area because so many people and businesses have moved to growing communities in the surrounding five counties. But no matter where in the area people live, they still proudly call themselves Detroiters.

The last decade has been tough for Detroit; the city has had to deal with a struggling auto industry and an economically depressed inner city. The city has dropped from being the nation’s fourth largest in the 1950s to the 11th largest today, with a population of just under a million people. This was caused by a major population shift to the suburbs in the 1960s. Detroit’s metro area is the 11th largest in the nation, with 4.5 million people. The 1990s saw the city’s core experience a bit of a resurgence as an entertainment district.

Still, Detroit has a vibe that won’t quit, and southeast Michigan remains the capital of the U.S. auto industry, a center for manufacturing and home to many big businesses that have nothing to do with cars.

Detroit has always been a gritty place. It was settled by frontier fur trappers and traders, and it grew large when Henry Ford hired thousands from all over the rural South to build Model Ts at a then-generous $5 per day. Detroit continues to pride itself on being a labor union stronghold and a place where hard-working people can get ahead. Continuing immigration from the war-torn Middle East has given the Detroit area the largest concentration of Arab-Americans in the Western Hemisphere; the largest mosque in the United States is in Detroit.

Love pro sports? You’ll love Detroit. It’s home to professional football, baseball, basketball and hockey teams. There’s the Detroit Lions of the NFL; the NHL’s Detroit Redwings, winners of 10 Stanley Cups, the most of any American franchise; the Detroit Tigers; and the NBA’s Detroit Pistons. Michigan Speedway, an hour outside of the Detroit area, hosts two NASCAR races a year. The Gold Cup hydroplane race, one of the fastest and most prestigious boating races in the world, hits 200 mph on the straightaway in front of the venerable Detroit Yacht Club.

Detroit is all pro in the arts arena as well. The Detroit Institute of Arts is the fifth-largest fine arts museum in the country. The Detroit Opera House and Opera Theater and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra are respected, and The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village has a larger collection of Americana than the Smithsonian Institution. The Motown Museum celebrates the city’s musical roots, and the area continues to encourage innovative jazz and popular music at a variety of venues.

The North American International Auto Show takes over Detroit’s Cobo Conference Center every January. It’s the largest car show in the country and the most influential in the world.

Cars still make the Motor City run, but there’s more to Detroit than the Big 3.

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