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Photo illustration: gangliu10; Aïda Amer/Axios

For decades, the world has pointed to Detroit as a symbol of the entire Rust Belt and the decay of American manufacturing. But the city is attempting to change that narrative — and succeeding.

Why it matters: Detroit may be the starkest example, but its story is mirrored in dozens of U.S. cities — Columbus, Pittsburgh and Toledo among them — that have shared its challenges and are embarking on comebacks of their own.

What's happening: The mayor's office, nonprofits and Detroit's Fortune 500 companies are coming together to turn the city around. Detroit is changing so fast that its transformation over the last decade was visible from outer space.

In the last 10 years, Detroit has turned many of its longtime problems around — and attracted jobs in industries that will shape the future.

  • The site that used to be home to Hudson's — once the country's biggest department store and the crown jewel of Detroit's downtown — has been revamped. It's turning into a new, futuristic skyscraper with shops, office space and a hotel. Dan Gilbert, the billionaire co-founder of Quicken Loans, is behind that project as well as much of the development around the rest of downtown.
  • While automakers are — and likely always will be — the major employers in the region, a slew of new industries have come to town, including fintech, cybersecurity, health care IT and retail, says Ned Staebler, vice president of economic development at Wayne State University, in the heart of Detroit.
  • On top of that, autonomous vehicle makers are targeting Detroit due to its roots in the car business. Waymo is putting a factory in Detroit, and Ford is turning an abandoned train station in the city into its AV center.
  • And the city has pulled in some Big Tech. Microsoft has an office downtown, and LinkedIn just announced plans to build a big outpost in Detroit.

But, but, but: Many of the economic and demographic trends that are shaping the future of American cities are working against Detroit and cities like it.

  • Robotics and AI are taking over — or deeply altering — jobs in advanced manufacturing, which remains a key pillar of Detroit's economy.
  • The city keeps getting beat out by superstar metros in the war for talent and jobs. Detroit worked hard to get Amazon to build its second headquarters in town, but lost to D.C. "A lot of cities wanted it, but we wanted it the most," a person familiar with Detroit's bid told Axios.

And while Detroit has made big strides in its reinvention, it's still losing people — despite efforts to bring in new people and get college graduates to stay. “The population number is the number by which we either win or we lose," Mayor Mike Duggan told the New York Times.

  • In 1950, Detroit had 1.85 million people, making it the fourth-largest city in the country. Today, the population has dwindled to under 675,000, a 100-year-low, largely due to the decline of the once-kingly automakers.

Go deeper: Detroit's uneven comeback

Go deeper

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.

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