Ford Motor Co. made a major statement of intent today with its announcement that it plans an ambitious redevelopment of its Dearborn headquarters and product development campuses into walkable, environmentally friendly hubs to better encourage collaboration and innovation. It signals its commitment to Michigan, but it’s also a smart bid to lure top talent and remain competitive amid rapidly intensifying competition from Silicon Valley.
The project involves a mind-boggling 7.5 million square feet of new construction or renovation over 10 years at an estimated $1 billion-plus in investment. It will involve relocating 30,000 workers spread across 70 separate buildings into its Glass House headquarters campus and its product development campus, just south near The Henry Ford and Greenfield Village.
Yes, it’s in the suburbs (sorry, Detroit puritans). Yes, it’s from one of the “old economy” Detroit Three automakers. But I say there are plenty of reasons to be excited over Ford’s announcement. Here are four:
It drags Ford’s campus into the 21st century.
Many of Ford’s existing office buildings are more than 60 years old. President Dwight D. Eisenhower even dedicated Research and Engineering Center Campus way back in 1953. The campus today largely retains the look of a 1950s car-culture time warp, with bland office buildings lining the Southfield Freeway and set well apart from one another by massive surface parking lots and pointless lawns (and, more recently, some really cool sunflower meadows).
The new campus will be much more compact yet will include water features, native landscaping, more trees, walkways, outdoor gathering spaces and soccer and softball fields.
It’s huge for attracting top talent.
Ford, which recently opened a Silicon Valley office, can one day boast of having a campus every bit as vibrant, high-tech and cool as the ones found there. There will be geothermal heating and cooling, solar energy systems, rainwater collection systems and a Sustainable Showcase building that Ford says will produce more energy than it consumes.
In a Detroit YES thread, user mikeg19, who said he works in Ford’s product development, wrote that “We are going from stone age to Google essentially.”
It’s a move away from car culture.
Ford deserves credit for recognizing that it isn’t sustainable to keep building millions of cars and trucks each year for sale to individual users on a rapidly crowding planet. Even if it isn’t entirely clear what becoming a “mobility” company will entail, this move shows that the company is serious about embracing the future, with bike and walking trails, autonomous vehicles, shuttles and ebikes helping to connect the campus.
“That was always my gripe is why are the buildings so f__ing scattered,” said a friend of mine who works for Ford as an engineer. “Why do I have to get in my car to talk to people? It’s stupid.”
It’s an economic boost for the region.
Sure, at 7.5 million square feet of new construction or redevelopment and an estimated $1.2 billion price tag, this will provide plenty of good construction jobs. But it’s also important for what it says about the Detroit region and its future as a hub for engineering, innovation and product design. That can’t help but have a positive knock-on effect.