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Detroit and the surrounding region constitute a major manufacturing center, most notably as home to the Big Three automobile companies, General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. The city is an important center for global trade with large international law firms having their offices in both Detroit and Windsor. About 80,500 people work in downtown Detroit, comprising 21% of the City's employment.There are about four thousand factories in the area. The domestic auto industry is primarily headquartered in Metro Detroit. New vehicle production, sales, and jobs related to automobile use account for one of every ten jobs in the United States. The area is also an important source of engineering job opportunities. A 2004 Border Transportation Partnership study showed that 150,000 jobs in the Windsor-Detroit region and $13 billion in annual production depend on the City of Detroit's international border crossing.

The Detroit area is accustomed to the economic cycles of the auto industry. A rise in automated manufacturing using robot technology, inexpensive labor in other parts of the world, and increased competition have led to a steady transformation of certain types of manufacturing jobs in the region. Local complications for the city include higher taxes than the nearby suburbs, with many unable to afford the levies on property. In June 2008, metropolitan Detroit's unemployment rate was 9.7%. In the city, the unemployment rate was 14.2% at the end of 2005, leaving Detroit with more than one-third of residents below the poverty line. This is in part attributed to white flight following court-ordered busing during the 1970s. Parts of the city have abandoned and burned out shells of buildings. Though the city has struggled with finances, since 2006 it has balanced its budget with more funding available to demolish blighted properties.

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