Google signs on to be 'founding member' of Michigan Central district

Jordyn Grzelewski
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co.'s vision for the campus it's anchoring around the former Michigan Central Depot in Corktown continues to take shape, with technology giant Google announcing Friday it has signed on to be part of the developing mobility district.

Meanwhile, Michigan Central leaders said they are launching a public-private partnership with the state of Michigan and the city of Detroit under which additional resources have been committed to the venture, including the planned establishment of a zone within the district that would allow companies to fast-track the approval processes they need to pilot new mobility technologies.

Google is joining Ford as what project leaders are calling "founding members" of Michigan Central. The Dearborn automaker has emphasized that Michigan Central will not be a Ford campus, but a collaborative district where other companies will work on mobility products and services as well.

Google's involvement there, the companies said Friday, will focus on workforce development for local high school students and job seekers. The California-based company also will provide cloud technology for Michigan Central's mobility projects.

Google will be part of an emerging mobility district being developed around the Michigan Central Station that's being rehabilitated by Ford Motor Co.

“Only a few short years ago, I announced Ford’s investment in Detroit because I believed in a vision that reimagined the iconic Michigan Central train station and surrounding area as a place of possibility again,” Bill Ford, Ford's executive chair, said in a statement.

“Today’s announcements reflect our commitment to that vision, attracting the best and the brightest to come together to solve some of the world’s toughest challenges," he added. "The arrival of Google as a founding partner is exactly the kind of investment and progress I knew was possible to revitalize our hometown. And I could not be more pleased that the City of Detroit and the State of Michigan are also joining us in this ambitious effort. I know it is only the beginning of what we can achieve together.” 

Google will open a new Code Next Lab at Michigan Central to teach computer science to high school students. The company also is partnering with local nonprofits — including M.A.D.E. Institute, Dress for Success Michigan and Streetwise Partners — to offer a career certification it says is designed to equip participants with skills for in-demand fields within three to six months.

Ford has agreed to recognize the certificate and consider program graduates for jobs.

"By offering digital skills training, mentoring to high schoolers learning to code, and Google Cloud technology for Michigan Central projects and research on the future of mobility, we look forward to contributing to Michigan Central’s mission and all it will accomplish," Ruth Porat, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Google and parent company Alphabet, said in a statement.

What Google's physical presence at the campus will look like is still to be determined, project leaders said.

Meanwhile, the state plans to "align" more than $126 million in new and existing programs and resources to support Michigan Central, according to a news release. That commitment includes new resources from the Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

In a statement, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said the state is "proud to partner with Ford and other founding members at Michigan Central to shape the next century of transportation solutions while reducing emissions and accelerating electrification."

"By embracing a whole-of-government approach in our collaboration with Michigan Central and the city of Detroit, we are writing the playbook for a new kind of partnership that keeps Michigan at the forefront of mobility for generations to come."

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan's administration plans to designate a Transportation Innovation Zone within the district, opening up expedited review and approval processes to companies piloting new technologies there. 

“As we started to attract some small companies, startup companies, mobility companies who really understand the value of testing at Michigan Central, it became apparent very quickly that the permitting process in the city was very difficult and could really take quite a few months," Mary Culler, Michigan Central's development director, told The Detroit News.

Ford purchased the former Michigan Central Depot in 2018 and since then has been working on a nearly $1 billion development project that, in addition to redeveloping the long-abandoned former train station into offices, retail shops, event space and a hotel, includes building out a 30-acre district that will mostly be open to the public.

The adjacent, Albert Kahn-designed Book Depository building and the 1,250-parking-spot Bagley Mobility Hub are slated to open this summer. The former train station is scheduled to be complete early next year.

Ford expects to have about 2,500 employees based at Michigan Central, with the rest of employees on the campus coming from other companies.

“This is really an open platform that Ford is underpinning to bring in others to solve some of our major problems," said Culler. "And we know that one of the major problems is workforce development and the future of jobs. So when you think about an innovation district like what we’re creating at Michigan Central, one of the No. 1 issues is how can we bring community into it in a way that is equitable and that provides them opportunities in the future economy? And that’s what Google is going to be doing."

Meanwhile, Ford said that the newly-created Michigan Central Innovation District LLC will manage operations of the district.

Twitter: @JGrzelewski