EDA University Center for
Regional Economic Innovation

Innovation Fellows

The REI Innovation Fellows program was established in 2016 to tackle the tough economic development issues that our distressed communities of Michigan face every day by supporting Innovation Fellows. Innovation Fellows provide on-the-ground support and coordination to turn concepts into actions, and implement new economic development tools, models, and policies. Innovation Fellows, recruited by REI, its partners, Economic Development Districts (EDDs), and past Co-Learning Plan authors, will identify recommendations in past Co-Learning Plans to serve as current and practical information for local and state economic development practitioners and policymakers as they consider important decisions for Michigan communities and regions.

  • Laleah Fernandez (2018)

  • Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Michigan State University Quello Center for Telecommunication Management and Law

  • Laleah Fernandez (2018)

    Laleah Fernandez is a post-doctoral research fellow at MSU's Quello Center in the College of Communication Arts & Sciences. She earned her Ph.D. in Media and Information Studies, her M.A. in Advertising and her B.A in Journalism, all from MSU. Her research interests include network analysis and the role of new and emerging media in community-level and global mobilization efforts. Laleah has published research and reviews in the areas of advertising, economic development, mobilization, and science communication. Laleah comes to us from her position as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Information and Computing Science at the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay.

    Project

    In 2018, Laleah began her Innovation Fellows project, "Network and Digital Media Strategies for Mobilization toward Policy Change." This project focuses on a digital media strategy for Southwest Michigan Planning Commission (SWMPC) to improve awareness, consensus building, and action related to current topics of policy importance for economic development. In particular, this project will include a network analysis to help optimize the flow of information (e.g. remove redundancy), specify influencers/opinion leaders, and improve communication efficiency based on strength of ties and attributes among stakeholders. The project will result in a case study research paper and digital media outreach template for other regional economic development organizations.

  • Rita Fields (2018)

  • University of Michigan

  • Rita Fields (2018)

    Dr. Rita Fields is an associate professor of management in the School of Business at Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan and an adjunct professor of healthcare administration at Central Michigan University. Dr. Fields offers expertise on human resources and strategic business issues through Copper Phoenix Consulting, LLC and is the CEO of 313 Industries, a CNC machining and milling corporation. Dr. Fields is actively engaged in social justice issues within her community, serving as a consultant on both local and national societal issues.

    Project

    In 2018, Rita began her Innovation Fellows project, “Exploring the Underground Economy in Detroit.” Economic development initiatives targeting entrepreneurs have found Detroit to be a ripe breeding ground for talent, and for those entrepreneurs who are able to participate in those programs this has been a time of great fortune. The reality, though, is that these programs are not open to all who desire to ascend to the entrepreneurial ranks. For a multitude of reasons that need to be further identified and explored, some aren't able to take advantage of this opportunity. For some entrepreneurs, transitioning from being 'off the books' (or, as referred to in the title, underground) to 'on the books' would result in a significant pay cut due to the costs of conducting business. The research proposed in this study will focus on the definition of the underground economy, identification of susceptible participants, barriers of entry that have prevented participants of the underground economy from engaging in standardized entrepreneurial development, an attempt to quantify the potential economic impact of the underground economy in the region and why a commitment to reconnect that effort to the overall impact benefits the region and propose recommendations on how funders can be more inclusive in their funding guidelines.

  • Samantha Farr (2017)

  • Founder, Women Who Weld

  • Samantha Farr (2017)

    Samantha Farr has been a welder for 3 years and created Women Who Weld in 2014 with the help of an REI grant. Samantha holds a Master in Urban Planning from the University of Michigan and is the Founder of Farr Side a Planning & Community and Economic Development firm in Detroit.

    Project

    In 2017 Samantha, Founder and Instructor of "Women Who Weld" was chosen to lead an Innovation Fellowship. Women Who Weld is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, based in Detroit, that teaches unemployed and underemployed women how to weld and find employment in the welding industry. Women Who Weld's 6-week welding program is funded through donations and grants and is subsidized for participants. Women Who Weld was founded in 2014 and hosted two workshops; graduating 8 women and helping them find employment. Samantha Farr intends to create a nationwide or international network of female welders, creating a network can offer support and advice for women in the welding industry or those looking to break into it.

  • Bill Stough (2017)

  • CEO, Sustainable Research Group

  • Bill Stough (2017)

    Bill Stough is the CEO of Sustainable Research Group (SRG) a consultancy that provides sustainability design and management services to advance sustainable business practices for its clients. Bill has over 30 years of experience in environmentally sustainable business initiatives, industrial ecology, pollution prevention and ISO 14001 environmental management systems. He is the founder/organizer of several regional sustainable business networks and was the project manager for the development of the BIFMA e3 Sustainable Furniture Product Standard. Bill has completed over 60 Green Supplier Network Lean and Clean Assessments. He is active in the green manufacturing movement, is the immediate past chair the Sustainable Manufacturing Network and a recent inaugural Sustainable Business Hall of Fame inductee by the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum.

    Project

    In 2017, Bill began his Innovation Fellows project, "Triple Bottom Line." In regions of the state where entrepreneurial innovation is more established, the emergence of the Triple Bottom Line business model is driving growth of companies that are decidedly place-based, pay better wages and prefer purchasing local goods and services. This innovative business trend implies a shift from the current focus of reducing the negative impacts of economic activity to the deliberate generation of positive impacts. Bill will lead this Fellows initiative to actively introduce and help implement the TBL approach in the East Central Michigan region consisting of: Clare, Gladwin, Arenac, Bay, Midland, Isabella, Gratiot and Saginaw counties. Although not widely described as a disadvantaged community, this 8-county region has an average ALICE rating that indicates 43.25% of the population live below income levels needed to achieve minimal living standards.

  • Joel Rash (2016)

  • Director, Red Ink Flint

  • Joel Rash (2016)

    Joel Rash is the Director of Red Ink Flint, a youth-serving non-profit. Joel has spent his professional life working in the arts, economic development, and entrepreneurship, often at the intersection of all three. Red Ink’s Flint Local 432, one of the nation's longest-running all-ages performing arts venue, Flint Steamworks, a community makerspace, No Child Left On-Line, a youth outdoors program, and Flint City Pop-Up, supporting emerging entrepreneurs. Since 1984, Rash has booked rock shows in alternative spaces in downtown Flint, promoting cultural life in the city center. Beginning in 1994, Rash led the redevelopment of downtown Flint by purchasing three vacant buildings and renovating them as mixed-use offices, commercial storefronts, art spaces, and lofts - the city's first modern loft-style apartments. Previously, he led the city's Downtown Facade Improvement Program and the University of Michigan Flint's entrepreneurship efforts by establishing the University Outreach's Launch program to help incubate student and community start-ups. Recently he has been part of the leadership team for YES Flint, an effort to promote and support youth entrepreneurship.

    Project

    In 2016, Joel began his Innovations Fellows project, "Flint City Pop-up." This initiative focuses on creating a pipeline for entrepreneurial youth with multiple entry points and several outcomes. The education and support program will target high school students and disconnected 16- to 24-year-olds who are interested in starting their own businesses. Flint City Pop-Up will engage the more advanced youth entrepreneurs, as well as start-ups in the community who will benefit from intermediary step of having a temporary space to do business in.