One year. One city. Endless opportunities.

A message to Michigan: Lighten up.

Some common themes are starting to arise as I talk to people for Assignment Detroit. One in particular has struck me as important enough to post on the blog.

Simply, it is the idea that Metro Detroiters are too hard on themselves. Those who were born outside of the area are amazed at how native residents belittle the good things about this fine state we call the Mitten.

These "outsiders" seem to love it here. There is Mascha Poppenk, the Dutch filmmaker who called Detroit “the city of the future.” Or my new girl crush, Catherine Juon, the Internet marketing wunderkind from Iowa who loves living in the D.

"When you look at the history of all the things that have happened here, it's an amazing city," said Juon, co-founder of Ann Arbor-based Pure Visibility.

Then there is Mario Mazzardo, the brilliant software engineer who comes to Detroit's suburb of Bloomfield Hills via Italy.

Yes, he left Italy to work in the Rust Belt. And, yes, I asked him what in the world he was thinking.

“It is beyond my expectations,” Mazzardo said.

Really? Detroit?

“I confirm that I am happy we made the move,” Mazzardo said.

Okay, whatever. (Oh, wait. I must be one of those Michigan natives with low self-esteem.) That's right! Michigan is awesome! Great Lakes! Good times!

Mazzardo is the vice president of product strategy and management for solidThinking. Originally founded in Vicenza, Mazzardo and brother Alex started the software company in 1991. Troy-based Altair Engineering snapped them up last year and asked the duo to move to Michigan.

Designers use solidThinking software to create photorealistic 3D virtual prototypes of products across industries from jewelry to yachts to motorcycles. So a jewelry designer could show a potential client how the light reflects off of a ring as its wearer moves about.

As amazing as Italy is, Mazzardo said the timing was right to make the Midwest move. solidThinking was ready to launch a new product line. And his children (an 11-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son) were ready to make the change.

“I like the people here. Everyone is so hospitable and warm. I know all of my neighbors and we were invited to dinner by everyone,” Mazzardo said.

How are the kids doing?

“The schools are excellent, public and private,” Mazzardo said. “It's exciting for them. They love the new friends.”

In fact, Mazzardo has some advice for Michigan: Lighten up.

“Be open to new businesses, new people, new opportunities,” he said. “In Italy, people are more closed up. The people in the North are closed off from the people in the South. I thought it would be the same here, but it's not. It's different.”

When pressed, he concedes there might be one drawback – or so he has heard. “We are waiting for Michigan weather,” Mazzardo said. “It's a new experience.”

So…we're okay? You like us? You really like us?

Yes, Mazzardo insisted. “Look at the lakes! It's a beautiful area, even for someone who comes from Italy,” he said.

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