UM helps effort to lure Amazon’s ‘HQ2’ to Detroit

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The University of Michigan is touting itself as a “major attraction” as part of a statewide group of partners “leading the effort” to land an Amazon headquarters in Detroit.

UM President Mark Schlissel said Monday he regards the university as a potential draw for Inc., which is looking for a North American city to build its massive second headquarters.

The school is the largest public and second-largest overall research university in the United States, facilitating $1.4 billion in research activity, he said.

“We’re a research machine with an enormous array of faculty doing work of relevance to the types of businesses that Amazon is in,” Schlissel said during an interview with The Detroit News Editorial Board. “And, we’re a source of educated talent for whom Amazon here in Michigan might be an employer of choice.”

The Seattle-based giant, controlled by CEO and founder Jeff Bezos, said Thursday it is soliciting bids for what it calls “HQ2.”

It’s estimated the site would cost more than $5 billion, take up to two decades to develop and create as many as 50,000 jobs.

Amazon already employs 2,500 in two fulfillment centers in Michigan and a Detroit office. The online retailer says it is seeking bids from metro areas with more than 1 million people.

Billionaire investor Dan Gilbert has said he’s primed to convince the online retailer that the city should be the site of its next headquarters.

Gilbert, founder and chairman of Quicken Loans and Bedrock, said a task force has been assembled in Detroit to explore the option.

“We are very excited and we believe that Detroit will make an extremely strong pitch to Amazon,” Gilbert said in a statement provided last week.

Potentially working against the region however is the size of Detroit in comparison with some other large cities, the state’s struggles in primary and secondary education, and the fact that not enough residents are seeking their future through higher education, Schlissel noted Monday.

But, he stressed “we’ve got lots going for us.”

“We have a city with great leadership here in Detroit that is clearly, unlike many other cities, heading in the right direction,” he said. “It’s found bottom and it’s identified problems and progress is being made on many fronts and there’s a lot of energy behind it.”

Locating in Detroit, he said, also could help Amazon make a statement. The city, he said, “used to be one of Detroit’s greatest American cities and now is on its way back.”