Few people recognize the growth that is occurring in Detroit and its surrounding cities. Between the auto industry layoffs and the plethora of decaying buildings, the mainstream media has painted a picture of disaster and despair. Contrary to those reports, there are thousands of individuals working hard to turn Detroit around. Some of them manufacture new televisions -- others produce components for new watches. Many of them will help a major automaker complete its IT transformation .
Then there are the dozens of men and women that have helped Benzinga transform into a dynamic and innovative financial media outlet.
"It is crazy to think that two-and-a-half years ago this started in my basement," said Jason Raznick, the President and co-founder of Benzinga. "Now we're in an 8,000 square foot office with almost 30 people."
Raznick, who said that Benzinga has a "really big vision" for the future, was one of five Detroit entrepreneurs who spoke on a panel at Opportunity Detroit this week. He was joined by John Fikany, the VP of Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT ) U.S. commercial sector; Michael Webster, Executive VP of Kelly Services; Nathan Labenz, co-founder of Stik.com; and Shinola's Jacques Panis.
"Us being in Michigan, we feel like we have something to prove much more than if we were in another state," said Raznick. "I don't know if we work harder but we think we do. There are guys that are in the office throughout the night."
Raznick spoke proudly about Benzinga's partnership with Microsoft. "John from that little company, Microsoft, became a client of ours for the Windows 8 launch," he said. "We're one of the main [financial sites] there alongside Reuters and The Wall Street Journal. We have competitors. The only way that happens is that we outwork our competition, and we do that time and time again. That's why Microsoft came to us for more and more stuff. We're building really cool things."
Ultimately, Raznick said that Benzinga's goal is to "change the investment game."
"We fly out to New York a lot, as well as Chicago," Raznick added. "But there's a loyalty here [in Michigan]. In other places it's almost like musical chairs, where if things aren't going right, you give up. We don't believe in that."
No matter the obstacle, Raznick said that the Benzinga team is determined to overcome them. "If we can't figure out how to overcome them, we go another way," he said. "We figure out a way, always. Where there's a will, there's a way."
Benzinga is not the only firm that sees the value in Detroit. "Recently we had some big firms [talk to us] that wanted to come back to Michigan to be part of this renaissance," said Raznick. He added that if Benzinga were in New York, "We'd be just another fish in the pond."
"Here, we can make a statement -- and we know we have to work hard," he said. "We want to see so much more success in the state."
Raznick isn't alone. Quicken Loans founder and chairman Dan Gilbert purchased five additional downtown buildings for his Detroit 2.0 initiative this week.
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder recently said that by fixing the fundamentals, Detroit could be an exciting alternative to Chicago .
Raznick added that there needs to be a central well-known website for out-of-state job seekers who are looking to move back.
"Everything Gilbert is doing is awesome," said Raznick, who believes that Detroit's future involves more than local talent. "It's not just finding the talent here before they leave, it's also trying to attract people who are in other industries."
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