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Detroit is the most populous city in the U.S. state of Michigan and the largest city on the United States–Canada border. It is the seat of Wayne County, the most populous county in the state. It is a primary business, cultural, financial and transportation center in the Metro Detroit area, a region of 5.3 million people. It is a major port on the Detroit River, a strait that connects the Great Lakes system to the Saint Lawrence Seaway. It was founded on July 24, 1701, by the French explorer and adventurer Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac and a party of settlers.
The Detroit area emerged as a significant metropolitan region within the United States in the early 20th century, and this trend only hastened in the 1950s and 1960s, with the construction of a regional freeway system. Detroit is the center of a three-county Urban Area (population 3,734,090, area of 1,337 square miles (3,460 km2), a 2010 United States Census) six-county Metropolitan Statistical Area (2010 Census population of 4,296,250, area of 3,913 square miles [10,130 km2]), and a nine-county Combined Statistical Area (2010 Census population of 5,218,852, area of 5,814 square miles (15,060 km2). The Detroit–Windsor area, a commercial link straddling the Canada–U.S. border, has a total population of about 5,700,000. The Detroit metropolitan region holds roughly one-half of Michigan’s population.
Known as the world’s automotive center, “Detroit” is a metonym for the American automobile industry. Detroit’s auto industry was an important element of the American “Arsenal of Democracy” supporting the Allied powers during World War II. It is an important source of popular music legacies celebrated by the city’s two familiar nicknames, the Motor City and Motown. Other nicknames arose in the 20th century, including City of Champions, beginning in the 1930s for its successes in individual and team sport; The D; Hockeytown (a trademark owned by the city’s NHL club, the Red Wings); Rock City (after the Kiss song “Detroit Rock City”); and The 313 (its telephone area code).
Automobile manufacturing continues to be a primary force in the Detroit economy, and Detroit is the nation’s only older city that is home to a state-of-the-art auto assembly plant. In recent years, however, dependence on the auto industry has decreased—the city lost 39 percent of its manufacturing jobs in the 1980s—while the services sector has increased. Still, the automobile rules, and as go auto sales, so goes the Detroit area economy.
While manufacturing has globalized, virtually all of the key engineering, administrative, and testing functions of the Big Three take place in the Detroit area, employing thousands of highly-skilled and well-paid workers. Most of the world’s suppliers of auto parts, such as Delphi and Guardian Industries are also located in Detroit, and advertising firms such as Campbell-Ewald, BBDO, and McCann-Erickson, do millions of dollars in annual business with the large automakers.
There is also a budding industry growing up around firms researching hydrogen fuel cells and other non-petroleum power generating technologies that may drive the automobiles of the future. More than 75 percent of the labor force is employed in non-manufacturing jobs in such areas as research and development; accounting, law, and financial services; computer services; and personnel and clerical support. The Henry Ford Health System is the sixth largest employer in the state and is a major research center. Detroit ranks among the five major financial centers in the United States; offices of all the “Big Eight” accounting firms are also located there.
Metropolitan Detroit is the world headquarters for General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler Corp., and Volkswagen of America. Other national and international corporations headquartered there include Kmart (which merged with Chicago-based Sears & Roebuck in 2004), Compuware, The Budd Company, American National Resources, and Federal Mogul. Oakland County, one of the country’s wealthiest counties and directly north of the city, promotes its Auburn Hills area as “Automation Alley” due to the large number of robotics firms that have located there in recent years.
Items and goods produced are automobiles and automobile products, gray iron, machine tools and fixtures, foundry products, paints, varnishes, lacquers, chemicals, pleasure boats, paper and twine, air conditioning equipment, aircraft bearings and cushions, bolts, screws, nuts, boilers, tanks, ball bearings, tools, steel plates, flues and tubes, rubber goods, non-electrical machinery and automation equipment in pharmaceuticals, rubber products, synthetic resins, computer software, and robotics equipment and technology.