Ford unveils 10-year plan to transform Dearborn campus

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Work will begin in the coming weeks on a massive 10-year renovation to Ford Motor Co.’s design and product facilities with the goal of bringing the 112-year-old car company into the modern age and transforming Dearborn into a landing spot for top automotive talent.

Ford on Tuesday made public plans to drastically redevelop its outdated properties into a walkable, aesthetically pleasing work environment reminiscent of a college campus or Silicon Valley startup. Over the next decade, the automaker plans to relocate 30,000 employees currently spread throughout 70 Dearborn buildings into two main campuses — a product campus across the street from Oakwood Boulevard and The Henry Ford Museum, and a World Headquarters campus near the Glass House off Michigan Avenue.

The long-term project will include demolishing certain facilities and updating existing ones. Ford will build a new design center and zero-waste sustainability showcase building and completely renovate the interior of the Glass House. Early renderings call for basketball courts, softball fields, walkable paths with lakes, flowers and trees, and the ability for employees to move around the campuses using e-bikes, autonomous cars and shuttles.

“This is such a transformation. Ford is creating one of the coolest places to work in the world,” Dearborn Mayor John B. O’Reilly said. “They’re really conscious of creating the kind of environment people want to be in. For people really into technology and development, this is going to be like heaven.”

Construction will begin this month on a number of new parking structures, said Ford President and CEO Mark Fields. Raj Nair, Ford’s product chief, said the renovations won’t affect product development in Dearborn. O’Reilly said Ford will temporarily rent space in the city to move employees while building construction takes place.

The renovations come as automakers compete with West Coast-based tech firms to hire engineers, designers and other high-skilled workers who will design the autonomous and electric cars of tomorrow.

“It’s very difficult to recruit those people to the Midwest,” said Michelle Krebs, senior analyst with “Every company has to put their best face forward in terms of making their places of work modern and appealing to the future job market.”

Ford tapped SmithGroupJJR for the project, the same architecture and engineering firm that designed offices for Google, Microsoft, Tesla, the GM Tech Center and the University of Michigan and Indiana University.

“The overarching theme is to make the lives of employees better,” Donna Inch, chairman and CEO of Ford Motor Land Development Corporation, said in an interview. “Bringing people together within 10-minute walking diameters of each other ... the productivity gains are pretty significant.”

Many of Ford’s buildings are at least 60 years old. The automaker famously cut back on expenses during the downturn in 2008-09 and instead invested in product, which ultimately helped it escape bankruptcy. But the industry has rebounded, and the time is right to invest, Krebs said.

“They’ve got the money to do it, they’re coming off good times, and if they’re going to be around for the next 50 years, they have to do some major transformation,” she said.

Ford’s new product campus will double the number of employees who work in the area now, from 12,000 to 24,000. Currently known as the research and development campus, it was dedicated by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953.

Renovations will include “connected facilities” with the latest wired and wireless hardware; a central green area that links buildings; and energy-saving features like geothermal heating and cooling. The centerpiece will be a new 700,000-square-foot Design Center with studios and an outdoor design courtyard. Ford will demolish the old space, except for the 14,000-square-foot design showroom.

The World Headquarters campus will include more than 1.3 million square feet of reworked space, including a new building for Ford Credit next to the Glass House. A rendering shows an atrium at the front of the Glass House that Inch says could be used as a welcome lobby for visitors.

The interior of all the new buildings will be designed with more collaborative work spaces, adjustable-height desks, natural lighting, indoor and outdoor cafes with Wi-Fi, and on-site fitness centers. The new buildings will deliver about 50 percent annual energy use reduction, and a significant water and storm water reduction.

Executive Chairman Bill Ford, who has long touted the automaker’s sustainability efforts, said in a statement that the project “incorporates thoughtful ways to improve the environmental footprint of our facilities, while creating a vibrant workplace that inspires our employees.”

Inch declined to reveal a price for the massive undertaking. “It’s a long-term project and there’s a lot of moving pieces,” she said.

She said Ford will not need to purchase additional property and the renovations will take place within the 7.5 million square feet it already owns.

The announcement comes nearly a year after General Motors Co. announced a $1 billion investment to expand and renovate its Warren Technical Center. It also plans to offer employees the ability to move around campus on autonomous vehicles.

Ford’s construction will start this month at its Research and Engineering Center. Work on Ford’s World Headquarters will begin in 2021 and be complete in 2026.

“It’s really exciting for our team,” Inch said. “It’s about moving into the next century.”

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