Touring Turin and the Essence of Essen – Urban Turnaround Lessons for Detroit

A year ago I might have wondered how Turin, Italy could have any lessons for Detroit, Michigan, but since then Turin-based Fiat Motors has purchased a bankrupt Chrysler, LLC. That alone might be reason to look closer at an automobile center in Europe, but during my recent trip there I found other good information we might apply here.

I was privileged to be chosen as part of a multi-state delegation to participate in the German Marshall Fund of the United States' Comparative Domestic Policy Program, an economic study tour of Italy's Piedmont Region and Germany's Ruhr Valley Region. Those regions and their core cities, Turin and Essen, have roots in manufacturing. Turin, home to automaker Fiat, has a rich automotive history. Essen built a strong economy in steel and coal mining. Each of those industries has suffered decline in the post-industrial age. I, along with my Michigan delegation partners and participants from Cleveland, Ohio and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – know the story all too well.

What is remarkable about Turin and Essen is their success in regional recovery. While Fiat navigated mass layoffs and industry recession in the last few decades, the Piedmont Region came together to compile a 30-year master economic plan. This plan took five years to conceive, but it is underway and thriving. Turin's selection as the host for the 2006 Olympics provided a healthy boost to its infrastructure and global visibility.

Essen witnessed the virtual disappearance of its mining and steel industries. Knowing it needed a new economic base, the Ruhr Valley Region successfully re-branded itself as the European capital for culture and the arts.

I can attest that recovery and success have arisen from economies very similar to ours. I have seen regionalism not only work, but thrive. Cooperation and execution of measurable, tangible results is possible. We can learn from Turin's collaborative success. We can glean best practices from Essen's regional marketing and support of a new economic base.

But above all, we in the Detroit Region need to know what we do best. We need to come together and evaluate our collective strengths. Culture, arts, natural resources, manufacturing ingenuity, a skilled labor force – we've got 'em. We as a region have so much economic potential awaiting development. We just need to work together to make it happen.

This fall, economic leaders from Turin and Essen will join us in Detroit for follow-up dialogue and to explore cross-Atlantic cooperative opportunities. The Detroit Region has stepped up to the global stage. We know what we can offer. And through regional collaboration, Detroit can be unbeatable.

Jonathan Quarles is the Manager of Public Policy at the DEGC. To find out more you may contact him at

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