EDA University Center for
Regional Economic Innovation
Forging a Future: Recommendations for Strengthening Detroit's Mt. Elliott Employment District (2014)
Student-Led, Faculty-Guided Project - 2014
Authors: Aly Andrews, Aja Bonner, James Carpenter, Cassie DeWitt, Colin Dillon, Myles Hamby, Dustin Hodge, Evan Johnson, Kevin Shelton, Brian Smyser, Allison Sponseller, Liz Treutel, Cheng Wang, Dr. June Manning Thomas, Eric Dueweke, University of Michigan Taubman College
This project focused on real estate, business development, and community engagement/workforce development related to this specific Mt. Elliott industrial area, honing in on certain specific site or nodes within this expanse. Mt. Elliott includes the GM Poletown plan and many other industrial firms located in the city of Detroit.
In 2012, the Detroit Future City Strategic Framework plan was put in place. Its purpose was to create seven primary and six secondary core investment and employment corridors in Detroit. The Mt. Elliott district was selected as a "global trade and industrial growth area." The district currently holds the highest number of jobs besides Downtown and Midtown.
In 2014, a team of urban planning graduate students from University of Michigan and two school faculty members; Dr. June Manning and Eric Dueweke developed a student-led, faculty-guided study which took an in depth look at the Mt. Elliott industrial district of Detroit, analyzing current conditions. The team produced an economic development plan and they offered recommendations to improve the economy and increase jobs in the district.
Many methods of data collection were used to incorporate as many aspects of industry as possible into this study. These included conducting an organizational analysis with various sectors, structured and informational interviews with local business leaders, focus groups made up of area residents, site surveys, and stakeholder consultations. The student-led, faculty-guided project report includes a number of detailed findings that were provided to business leaders in the Mt. Elliott district. After the findings, the team laid out their recommendations and gave a time specific implementation plan for the future.
Something crucial the team noticed right away was that unlike most of Detroit's districts, Mt. Elliott lacked a supporting organization to market its identity and attract new investment and employers. After seeing what the other supporting organizations were doing for their respective districts, the team recommended that one should be put in place to represent Mt. Elliott. There would be three main roles in the organization; a real estate facilitator, a business collaboration coordinator, and a workforce liaison. The mission of this support organization would be to leverage real estate assets, improve the business environment, develop workforce talent, and collaborate with the community.
Other findings indicated that industrial businesses are consistently growing in Mt Elliot and there is still a considerable amount underutilized or unutilized industrial land. This land could be put to better use if the district improved the effectiveness of incentive programs, and subsequently increased the amount of businesses taking advantage of these programs. Some ways that they propose to fix this are through collaborating with employers on workforce training programs for industry specific skills, and through advocating for improved city services to incentivize investment by companies that are considering opening an operation in the Mt. Elliott district.
The collected data and recommendations have had a tremendous impact on the trajectory of the district. This student-led, faculty-guided project can be beneficial in numerous ways. Economic development and urban planning professionals could use the described process as a model for conducting their own study in other areas, and they can use the data provided to assess future options in similar industrial regions.
The student report was recently forwarded to the city of Detroit, which, in partnership with the Detroit Economic Growth Association and Detroit Future City, used some of the findings to apply for federal funding. The US EDA subsequently awarded the city $600,000 for improvements to the Mt. Elliott Corridor. The DEGA sent out a request for proposals in early 2015 for a strategic action plan for improvements to the district.