Detroit Plans New Innovation District for Downtown


DETROIT — The establishment of a new Innovation District in Detroit will be a catalyst for new jobs and small business growth throughout the city Mayor Mike Duggan announced today.

To lead the effort, Mayor Duggan has named Nancy Schlichting, CEO of Henry Ford Health System, as chair of a 17-person advisory committee that will develop a framework and plan towards the designation of a formal Innovation District in Greater Downtown and its development as a hub for innovation across all city neighborhoods. 

This comes on the heels of a report released this week by the Brookings Institution outlining how formalized Innovation Districts can facilitate new connections and ideas, accelerate the commercialization of those ideas, and support metropolitan economies.

Detroit was prominent as one of seven case studies in the report, and the Mayor’s office has been in discussions with the Brookings Institution, the New Economy Initiative of Southeast Michigan, and stakeholders in Greater Downtown and beyond about a possible formal designation for several months. 

“Everything we are doing in our city with economic development will be geared toward bringing jobs and development to neighborhoods in Detroit,” Mayor Duggan says.  “We have right now some great creative energy occuring in downtown and midtown.  The focus of the Innovation District will be to create an anchor to support neighborhood business incubators across the city.”

The Innovation District will support neighborhoods by:

  • Establishing neighborhood small business incubators. Institutions based in the Innovation District already support local businesses across the city and will be expanding their efforts to do so.  TechTown, for example, already has established neighbhorhood offices in Brighmoor, Osborn, Jefferson East and Grandmont Rosedale and will further expand into additional neighborhoods, including Hope Village. 
  • Establishing entrepreneurial programs in neighborhoods. Mayor Duggan has appointed Jill Ford to his staff to lead the effort to bring entrepreneurial programs to the neighborhoods. She will bring together financial and mentoring resources to support entrepreneurs, including both high technology innovative businesses, as well as businesses that will revitalize neighborhood comercial corridors.

“Today, there are 30,000 small business entrepreneurs in Detroit.  Helping them expand their businesses is the best way to create new jobs for Detroiters and rebuild our neighborhood comercial strips,” Mayor Duggan said.  

The Greater Downtown area of Detroit already has some of the region’s most powerful and concentrated innovation assets.  In its roughly 4.3 square miles, Greater Downtown contains 3.1 percent of the city’s land mass while hosting 55 percent of the city’s jobs. It also is home to two major medical centers, one of the country’s best design schools, three university satellite facilities, more than 30 entrepreneurial service providers, and a decade of private-sector job growth.

“We have seen tremendous momentum in this geography over the last several years through all of our individual efforts and hard work,” said Schlichting. “This is a unique moment in time, when we can take that momentum and very intentionally work together to leverage it in ways that not only accelerates growth in Greater Downtown, but ensuring that it directly supports growth across all city neighborhoods.”

Bruce Katz, vice president of the Brookings Institution and co-author of its report, said the establishment of innovation districts has proven to create well-paying jobs in other major cities and could do so in Detroit.

“Innovation Districts work. Barcelona’s innovation district developed 4,500 new companies in less than a decade. Boston’s 1,000 acre innovation district helped usher in more than 200 new companies and more than 6,000 jobs,” Katz said.  “No city is alike, but Detroit has the distinctive assets to develop a designated district and fuel powerful economic growth.”