June 12, 2014 at 11:49 pm

Duggan creates 'innovation district' to spur jobs in downtown, Midtown

Mayor Mike Duggan and Council President Brenda Jones. Duggan says his goal is to bring jobs and development to Detroit neighborhoods. (Max Ortiz / The Detroit News)

Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan said Thursday that an area encompassing downtown and Midtown will become the city’s first “innovation district,” an area with an anchor company that attracts other businesses.

The announcement follows a recent report by the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., identifying Detroit as being among more than a dozen cities nationwide that are creating economically viable, connected business zones that are establishing a new form of economic development called “innovation districts.”

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

Under the initiative, the innovation district will establish small business incubators and entrepreneurial programs in city neighborhoods.

Later, Duggan, who appointed Jill Ford to his staff to lead the effort, said Thursday’s announcement is the start of a six-month effort in creating an atmosphere for entrepreneurs. It will include a city-sponsored entrepreneurial fund that will be announced by August, Duggan said.

“My first six months was focused on improving city services: getting the buses to run on time, ambulances on time (and) getting the lights on,” Duggan said. “My second six months is going to be focused on creating the atmosphere for entrepreneurs to believe this is the place to come.

“This is the first of several steps that we will be rolling out over the next six months in creating that entrepreneurial climate.”

Nancy Schlichting, CEO of Henry Ford Health System, will chair the 17-member board and will help develop a framework and plan for the formal Innovation District in Greater Downtown. It will also serve as a hub for innovation across all city neighborhoods, the mayor said.

“Innovation can happen in any domain: in our community, neighborhoods, business (or) any aspect of our community life,” Schlichting said. “That’s what we’re looking for. That’s the kind of change that will make a difference in Detroit.”

The study by Brookings Institution co-author Bruce Katz, who attended the Thursday announcement, named Henry Ford Health System in Midtown as a Detroit anchor company that has helped spur surrounding businesses in its own “innovation zone.”

“Innovation districts work,” Katz said in a released statement, pointing to success in Boston and Barcelona, Spain. “No city is alike, but Detroit has the distinctive assets to develop a designed district and fuel powerful economic growth.”

“Innovation districts, in short, represent a clear path forward for cities and metropolitan areas,” write study authors Katz and Julie Wagner with Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program. “Local decision makers — elected officials and heads of large and small companies, local universities, philanthropies, community colleges, neighborhood councils and business chambers — would be wise to unleash them.”

Alicia George, co-owner of the Motor City Java House, said her business was a dream come true and she couldn’t have done it without help. She pointed out the need for businesses in her area along McNichols and Grand River on the far northwest side.

“We have become the heart of the city and the hub of the positive energy, and we would like everybody to participate,” George said. “I’m so glad that Detroit is all moving together. This has become a movement, and we will change this world right here in Detroit.”

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Staff Writer Michael Martinez contributed.