The new hub of mobility research in and around the historic Michigan Central Station in Detroit that is being spearheaded by Ford Motor Company is designed to drive collaborative innovation in a unique space that can attract the high-tech talent– and it’s only just beginning.
The campus includes the Albert Kahn-designed Book Depository building that opened this spring and the architecturally magnificent station that is poised to be ready soon.
The remaking of the historic landmark fulfills a pledge that Ford’s Executive Chairman Bill Ford made when the company bought the long derelict station in 2018. “Five years ago, we set out to create a place that would accelerate Detroit and our region’s role in solving the most pressing mobility challenges and change people’s lives for the better,” he said recently. “We see an opportunity to bring new companies and jobs to Michigan, while also attracting the best and the brightest talent for our industry.”
To Bill Ford, the new space at the Book offers three key things prospective talent will love and can’t really find together in one place: the ability to freely collaborate with other entrepreneurs, the ability to make things onsite, and work directly with OEMs in an urban context.
“The great thing about this building is this isn’t a closed building. This isn’t a Ford building. Michigan Central is an open platform,” Ford said at the opening of the Book Depository. “Our companies here can work with Ford if they want. They can work with GM, they can work with Stellantis, they can work with the Tier one suppliers. And that’s all great. It occurred to me early on that if we made this a Ford only [building], it wasn’t going to reach its potential. It couldn’t reach its potential. We wanted to invite everybody in here and to collaborate.”
A big part of fulfilling that vision is bringing Brooklyn-based innovation leader Newlab to the Book Depository building adjacent to the station. Newlab at Michigan Central will operate a center for startups, entrepreneurs, engineers, and scientists to build market-leading companies in Detroit. Josh Sirefman joined Michigan Central in February 2022 as CEO to lead management of the development.
Already, Newlab Detroit, has attracted more than 150 members from more than 33 companies to the 270,000-square-foot Book Depository. A third of those members are led by founders who are underrepresented in tech and half of the companies are from the Detroit area. Collectively, the startups at Newlab Detroit have already attracted more than $500 million in venture capital.
With Ford’s backing, the Michigan Central environs will also become part of a unique electrified corridor in the surrounding Corktown district. A collaboration between a company called Electreon and the Michigan Department of Transportation, this pilot project will construct a public wireless in-road charging system around the district. It will create a shared charging ability for EVs and make the district a proving ground for EV charging research.
“I think what we can do here is unique,” Bill Ford said. “We have this corridor called Michigan Avenue that runs from here out to Ann Arbor and has every kind of traffic and pedestrian combination possible along the way. That’s not going to be replicated anywhere else. We have the streets of Detroit. We have one street that’s now being built for inductive charging where you drive your EV and it charges as you drive.”
“I don’t think other cities can replicate this,” he added. “And if we do our job right, they’ll never be able to.”