Google opens sales office in Little Caesars Arena

Breana Noble
The Detroit News
The Belle Isle room seen here is part of the Tech Talk room (background). Google employees can entertain clients in this room instead of going off site.

Detroit — It may not be servicing searches or developing self-driving technology, but Google Inc.'s new Detroit office is seeking to help drive the future forward.

One hundred "Googlers" from the tech company's Birmingham offices moved to its modern, amenities-filled spot at Little Caesars Arena in August. The Mountain View, California-based company is the latest tech firm — including Microsoft and Tata Technologies — to pick up their operations from the Detroit suburbs and drop them into the city proper, reversing a decades-long trend.

"Detroit has a long-standing history of culture and innovation," said Danielle Russell, Google's site lead in Detroit. "It began the largest industrial boom the economy has ever seen. It never lost its truly iconic belief in hard work, deep dedication to community and its pursuit of innovation. That aligns extremely well with Google."

The office in Detroit serves the Detroit Three automotive companies, financial services business including Quicken Loans and other industries by connecting them with Google services such as search engine ads, cloud services and YouTube. Additionally, a cloud computing team working with machine learning and artificial intelligence helps clients with automation and more sophisticated marketing.

More than 31,000 Michigan companies and nonprofits use Google ad tools, Russell said, generating $3.8 billion in economic activity.

The centrality of Detroit, Russell said, made the arena an ideal location to work with clients and attract and develop new talent.

Christopher Ilitch, CEO of Ilitch Holdings Inc., which owns the company that manages the arena property, said Google has attracted interest for more business tenants as well as those interested in retail and residential developments for the surrounding District Detroit area.

"This move makes perfect sense that a company whose innovations that have changed the world would move to a city whose innovations have changed the world," said Ilitch, whose company also owns Little Caesars. "Like Little Caesars pizza and Crazy Bread, they just go together."

That shows in the new space, which has rooms bearing names like Diana Ross, Hudson's and Packard.. It is decorated with pieces from local artists, including a wall of old postcards from the city and Belle Isle.

Google Detroit Site Lead Danielle Russell walks past a shuffle board table during a media tour of the facility in Little Caesars Arena.

The office also offers almost everything a Google worker could want at no cost, including meals, massages and a fitness center with gender-inclusive facilities.

Google has grown to more than 600 employees across its offices in Ann Arbor and Detroit since coming to Michigan in 2006.

"I want to thank you for setting the standard for growth," said U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield. "A lot of people closed their doors and left. And we've opened the doors to many companies like Google. We want to partner with you."

During a grand opening celebration on Thursday, Google said it was awarding $1 million to programs that encourage high school students to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.

From right, llitch Holdings President and CEO Chris Ilitch talks with U.S. Rep Brenda Lawrence, and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, before the program.

The company awarded a $750,000, to the Summer Math and Science Honors, or SMASH, Academy at Wayne State University. The free-of-cost program gives high schools students in underserved communities the opportunity to participate in a five-week residential program that focuses on STEM and college preparatory. John Ray, site director for WSU's SMASH program, said 100 percent of the students who participate graduate high school, and  91 percent graduate with a college degree in five years or less.

Google also provided $250,000 to the University of Michigan's Michigan Engineering Zone. The MEZ provides equipment and training to robotics programs at 19 Detroit high schools serving nearly 400 students.

"That’s why this investment is so important," said Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township. "We have to understand that right now in our society, less than a third graduate from high school and 60 plus percent are not equipped when they get out of high school. We can make that difference. Google can make that difference."