While Ford Motor Company and the city of Detroit have a shared legacy of putting the world on wheels, Executive Chair Bill Ford, great-grandson to company founder Henry Ford, realized that investments in mobility research were happening everywhere besides the city that started it all.
“It was clear to me our world was going to change,” he said. “I realized that if Ford Motor Company, Detroit and our whole region were going to lead the next century in terms of how people move, and where they live and how they access all of that, it had to happen here.”
Today, that vision is becoming a reality, with the debut of the Book Depository, the first building to open on the 30-acre Michigan Central campus located between the Corktown and Southwest Detroit neighborhoods.
“This is exactly what I wanted to see happen here,” Ford told a standing-room only crowd of more than 400 partners, innovators, community leaders, media and others gathered to celebrate the opening of the mobility innovation facility. “The best and the brightest are coming here to invent things to help us create the future that we need in this community, and I couldn’t be more excited.”
The Book Depository, modernized and repurposed to host a high-tech startup ecosystem with dynamic workspace and purpose-built labs, will provide an open platform for high-tech startups to create new mobility solutions. It also gives Ford the opportunity to collaborate with other companies, even competitors, in different subject areas aligned with our goals for the future, such as electrification.
Ford was joined by Michigan Central CEO Josh Sirefman, Newlab member and Dunamis Clean Energy Partners Founder and CEO Natalie King, TED Head of Partnerships and Impact Lindsay Levin, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist. After their discussion, guests toured the facility and experienced demonstrations of the technology already being fostered at the Book, including examples from a company focused on decarbonizing transportation and a robot delivery platform.
Sirefman opened the event by welcoming attendees to the “cathedral of innovation” created by numerous teams from a building that stood vacant for more than 35 years.
“Michigan Central is a story just starting to unfold,” he said. “The impact of the work here is going to be profound. It’s not hyperbole to say the path to a more sustainable and more equitable future could get invented in this building.”
During a discussion led by Levin, Ford advocated for collaboration in solving the next generation of mobility issues. He said he knew that Michigan Central could not be exclusive to Ford Motor Company if it was going to succeed.
“This isn’t a Ford building. This is an open platform,” Ford said. “Our companies here can work with Ford, if they want, or they could work with GM or Stellantis, they could even work with Tier 1 suppliers, and that’s all great. It occurred to me early on that if we made this a Ford-only thing, it wasn’t going to reach its potential. We wanted to invite everybody in here to collaborate.”
Michigan Central will help Ford and the automotive industry compete with the likes of Silicon Valley and other regions for tech talent, Ford said, and the Book Depository allows them to work collaboratively while also providing them the ability to make prototypes, which can be difficult in other similar campuses, and it allows them to work with Ford and other automakers.
More than 150 members from more than 33 companies are already hard at work in the Book Depository, which serves as the Detroit headquarters for Ford’s partner, Newlab, which will be overseeing the collaborative work created there. The 270,000-square-foot Art Deco building was built in 1936 and served as a post office and mail-sorting facility. It was later used as the Detroit Public Schools Book Depository. It has been redesigned with a focus on connection and collaboration.
The Michigan Central campus also includes The Station with the much of the construction to be completed over the course of this year. The renovated former train depot will also serve in part to support the Michigan Central innovation ecosystem. Altogether, the facilities at Michigan Central, including The Factory, are projected to attract new jobs and will offer collaborative workspace, residential, retail and hospitality spaces, as well as dozens of acres of greenspaces outdoors open to the community.
Duggan and Ford, whose family owns the Detroit Lions, became close more than 20 years ago when the franchise was relocating back to Detroit from the suburbs, a move often seen as a catalyst for the city’s resurgence. He called the purchase of Michigan Central Station and other nearby properties a “transformational moment” for the city and for Ford Motor Company.
“Detroit is moving back to the center of the future of the auto industry,” Duggan said. “This is going to prove to be bigger for the city’s future than (Ford Field) was.”