Report: Big 3 universities pivotal in Detroit’s revival

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Detroit — Wayne State University is an anchor in Detroit, where university officials have worked to reduce crime and partnered in community projects such as the QLine and Live Midtown.

As a result, the nearby retail community has grown and thousands more students are living on campus and other residents are making their homes in the nearby neighborhoods.

The University of Michigan also is touching the city through programs that help residents buy, fix and rent abandoned homes and beautify neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, Michigan State University is reaching residents through its Extension office, helping people buy nutritious food, improve financial literacy and cope with stress while it brings music education to low-income families where school programs are cut.

These are a few ways that the alliance of the state’s three largest universities has played a role in the revitalization of Detroit, in collaboration with city officials, educators and members of the local business, arts and other communities, according to a report unveiled Thursday at the Mackinac Policy Conference.

Released by the University Research Corridor — a collaboration of WSU, UM and MSU — the report outlines the numerous ways that the state’s three largest universities are assisting in Detroit’s resurgence.

According to the report, the URC is engaged in more than 300 projects in Detroit, producing $958 million in annual economic impact, 1 in 20 jobs in the city, and $263 million in research activities between 2010 and 2014. URC projects include efforts to improve education delivery in Detroit, build community, offer public health, and provide community service, arts programs and economic revitalization.

“Each of the universities are individually and collectively committed to working in partnership with a lot of other organizations to help the recovery of this great, iconic city,” said Jeff Mason, URC executive director.

The report comes 10 years after the three university presidents announced formation of the URC. At the time, then-UM President Mary Sue Coleman said the three schools were banding together so they could more effectively take inventions from their labs to the marketplace and attract jobs to the state.

“All of us feel a very strong desire and commitment to helping the state through the economic downturn we are in,” Coleman said in November 2006.

Over the years, the URC has issued reports on issues that outline the alliance’s economic value to the state.

This year’s URC report outlines its impact on Detroit, which is working toward a renaissance. It comes more than 65 years after the city’s population peaked in 1950 at 1.8 million.

Widespread car ownership and better roads made it easier for workers to live farther from factories, leading city residents to move into the suburbs and away from Detroit’s manufacturing base. The result: Over the next several decades, the city lost about 1 million residents, according to the report.

Left behind were mostly impoverished residents, vacant land and abandoned buildings, putting increasing economic pressure on the city, which filed for the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history in July 2013.

But the city is beginning to stabilize, particularly in neighborhoods such as downtown, Corktown and Midtown, where Wayne State is anchored. The three URC universities educate more than 28,000 students in Detroit, most of them at Wayne State.

“Detroit faces many challenges going forward, and overcoming these challenges is important not just to the city, but to the entire state,” the report concludes. “Detroit is a large city with significant issues that URC cannot simply solve. However, the URC is making a big difference, and it is helping Detroit build on its momentum.”