For Jeanette Pierce, Detroit isn’t Motor City. It’s not Motown, Hockeytown or America’s Comeback City. It’s home. A born-and-raised Detroiter, Pierce has more passion for Michigan’s largest city than your average city advocate. That’s why she founded Detroit Experience Factory—a nonprofit that connects locals and visitors to Detroit’s people, places and projects through experiential tours and resources, including a welcome center downtown—more than a decade ago. It’s also what drives the organization’s new ambassador program for meetings and conferences.
Working with the city’s CVB, Visit Detroit, and the recently overhauled Cobo Center, DEF ambassadors have served as boots on the ground for conferences like ASAE’s 2015 Annual Meeting & Expo and the 2016 North American International Auto Show. “Is this personal? Absolutely,” says Pierce, who grew up in the city, moved downtown in 2003 and hasn’t driven to work since. “When I started walking places, I started noticing things I had never noticed before,” she explains. “The more I learned, the more I loved being here.”
Pierce hopes the new ambassador program will help others love being in Detroit too. She sat down with Connect to share how the program got started, debunk myths about Detroit and share the wildest question she’s been asked.
“As we like to say, Detroit is big enough to matter in the world, but small enough where you can matter in it.”
How is Detroit Experience Factory different from the CVB?
We work closely with the CVB, but they’re focused on the entire region while we focus specifically on Detroit. We have the inside scoop on everything that’s happening on the ground level, from new restaurants and bars to shops and museums. When we were starting grassroots 10 years ago, one of the names we floated was “Friend for Rent.” When you visit a place and you know somebody there and they say, “Oh, you’ve got to go to this place,” you end up having a much better experience. We try to provide that to everyone.
What’s your favorite thing about Detroit?
We know our neighbors, and we have a sense of community. We have this sense of being part of something bigger. There’s a collaboration and community that I think is rare in other big cities. As we like to say, Detroit is big enough to matter in the world, but small enough where you can matter in it.
You piloted your ambassador program at ASAE’s conference last year. How does it work?
The ambassador program is a natural extension of the tours. We’ve done pop-up welcome centers at events, such as a table by registration with maps, information and recommendations. We can also answer questions like “What’s the best vegan restaurant in town?” but also questions like, “What’s going on with the bankruptcy?” Because we’re living here, we make it our mission to stay up on all sides of every issue because it affects our lives.