University Industry Partnerships

The University of Michigan

Urban Planning 538 - Economic Development Planning

Winter 2005

Contact Information:

Christopher Bryant

Last Modified:

April 25, 2005


University/Industry Partnerships

Case Study: Detroit + Auto Industry


There are many successful partnerships throughout the Detroit area between the Automotive Industry, which is led by the Big 3 consisting of Ford, General Motors, DaimlerChrysler and area universities. Schools such as Wayne State University , University of Detroit Mercy , University of Michigan , and Michigan State University are examples of schools that benefit from these partnerships. Aside from the benefits that the schools and the automotive industry enjoy collectively are the added benefits that Detroit and its surrounding cities enjoy. These partnerships have led to economic development in these areas through a wide array of methods. Training of the regions workforce, developing new technology as a means to attract new business and also the development of land for new ventures are just a few of the results of these partnerships. The partnerships that are being looked at here are typical when compared to other cities. One new wrinkle is the collaboration between the government, the school and the industry. This type of partnership in Michigan has been used to form SmartZones, which are areas designated for the purposes of developing technology.

Ford Center for Computing 

Ford Motor Company is a major presence in Southeastern Michigan because of its donations to various causes, number of jobs they provide and their commitment to education within the community. Examples of their commitment to education and community can be seen by the many partnerships they have with area universities. One of these partnerships resulted in the development of the Ford Center for Computing. The center located on the University of Detroit Mercy campus - one of only two universities located within the city of Detroit, opened in the spring of 2003. The aim of the Center is so that it assures “that Detroit will remain the automotive capital of the world”(James Padilla, 2003, Exec VP Ford Motor Company, This partnership, and others like it are imperative for Southeastern Michigan as it continues being industry leaders with regards to automotive technology. This center also allows Ford to further the educations of its own employees thus making them more marketable. The partnership allows Ford employees to earn Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering or Computer Science and Masters in Product Development. This partnership is good for economic development in two ways. The first is that it increases the education of its workers. The Bachelors program being a good example of this because it allows workers whom may not have had the opportunity to pursue a degree to earn one. This enables workers to earn more income, and also improves their marketability in the case they were ever laid off. The second albeit on a much smaller scale, is Ford's commitment to developing new technology with the regards to the automotive industry. There will be a much larger example of this commitment later in the discussion.

Michigan Virtual University 

Established in 1998, the Michigan Virtual University (MVU) originally was designed to enhance the skills of Michigan workers by providing training and education through the use of Internet classes. While the focus of the organization has changed to K-12 students, its overall goal of maintaining high levels of education regarding technology within the state of Michigan , using universities and the private industry remain very much intact. The MVU has a board of directors that consist of a mix of schools and industry. The board of directors is made up of industry leaders hailing from General Motors, Comerica, and DaimlerChrysler. In addition to those industry leaders, schools such as Oakland University, the University of Michigan, and Michigan State University are found on the board as well. The MVU also partners with various community colleges, which enables Michiganders to take courses. The MVU is the second largest virtual K-12 school in the United States and works together with the Michigan Department of Education. The MVU partnership does not directly spur economic development however, through its partnerships the MVU is training the future workforce of Michigan so that it will be prepared and ready for the new wave of jobs dealing with technology.

The Greenfield Coalition 

The Greenfield Coalition is a joint effort of Focus:HOPE, six universities, several companies and an engineering society. It is a partnership that combines colleges, a non-profit organization, and industry. The program started in 1993 to help inner city residents prepare for careers in the high-technology sector. It has its own educational campus, which includes an advanced manufacturing facility, located in the community ( Detroit ) it serves. The universities involved are Wayne State University (Detroit), the University of Detroit Mercy, Lawrence Technological University (Southfield, Michigan), the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Lehigh University (Pennsylvania). Its industry partners are Ford Motor Company, General Motors Corporation, DaimlerChrysler, Electronic Data Systems, Detroit Diesel Corporation, and Cincinnati Machine in Ohio . Focus:HOPE and the National Society for Manufacturing Engineers are the other partners involved. The program and facility combine theory and application. So while teaching the students engineering fundamentals, they are still able to work for major manufacturing companies designing and building products. The Greenfield Coalition offers three degree programs. Students must earn their associate's degree in manufacturing technology, which is awarded by Lawrence Tech before pursuing a bachelor's degree. After earning their associate's degree students then choose from bachelor's degrees in either manufacturing engineering technology from Wayne State or manufacturing engineering from the University of Detroit Mercy . Although only three of the participating universities are degree-granting, all offer credits in the degree programs. The cooperation between the six schools is unprecendented, and because of the collaboration the program serves as a virtual university with three different degree programs. The success with the program as it relates to economic development is that it creates opportunity for minority students in the city of Detroit . The program boasts a large percentage of black students from Detroit. This case is much like the Ford Center for Computing and the Michigan Virtual University as another example of training a workforce. What's more important however, is the fact that the students in this case are directly from the Detroit area. In a city with high unemployment combined with few educational opportunities, programs such as these are imperative to a city like Detroit. Focus: HOPE contribution to economic development within the city is providing job training and job opportunities to people that otherwise would not have received them.

New Wave of Partnerships:Industry/University/Government 

On September 16, 2002, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation announced that Wayne State University 's Woodward Technology Corridor was to be the new home to the NextEnergy Center , a $50 million fuel cell technology project. The NextEnergy Center , which was originally supposed to be located in York Township in Washtenaw County , will be a high-tech research and development center for the study of fuel cell and alternative energy technology for the auto industry. Then-Michigan Governor John Engler and CEO of the MEDC Doug Rothwell were on hand for the announcement. The development would make Detroit as well as Michigan , “the fuel cell capital of the world” (Alejandro Bodipo-Memba, 2002, Detroit Free Press, This partnership is an example of three different entities working in unison. Aside from the University/Industry partnership, there also lies the connection with the government. The city of Detroit worked fast to lure NextEnergy after Washtenaw County balked at the development. Detroit was able to get NextEnergy because of the SmartZone, which is a state-designated area dedicated to technical growth. SmartZones enable municipalities to receive local tax dollars to buy property, improve roads and other infrastructure that are crucial for technology parks. The Woodward Technology Corridor will be located in this area. The Corridor previously sat unused and undeveloped. The land which, was owned by the city and Wayne State , was waiting on a project like this to come along. The SmartZone, "will house incubator and business accelerator services that will help technology companies develop alternative energy products"(Alejandro Bodipo-Memba, 2002, Detroit Free Press, . There are 11 SmartZones across Michigan, this is the first in Detroit. Mayor of Detroit Kwame Kilpatrick said, ``We are very excited that the NextEnergy Center will be located in Detroit, the home of the automobile industry and now the home of the alternative energy industry which will create the newest breakthroughs in powering our future,''(Kwame Kilpatrick, 2002, Detroit Mayor,

Wayne State already had a location and infrastructure set up to accommodate NextEnergy, so Detroit became the logical choice. NextEnergy is a non-profit corporation founded in October 2002. Also the NextEnergy Center will be located in the Wayne State University Research and Technology Park , which has been, designated an Alternative Energy Renaissance Zone by the City of Detroit . The zone offers up to 20-year state and local tax exemptions for companies that locate and perform alternative energy research, development and manufacturing and education related to alternative energy technology (NextEnergy,

The project, which broke ground in December of 2002, is an example of the aggressive stance the companies in the Detroit area are taking with regards to developing new technology for the Auto Industry. Fuel Cells have been compared to being the next coal. They use hydrogen and oxygen to create electric power while emitting only water vapor. They are seen as a potential long-term solution to the country's dependence on foreign oil. The Big 3 is front and center with pursuit of developing this technology. Aside Wayne State , other universities in the state such as Central Michigan University have benefited from the auto companies interest in developing this technology. Because of collaborations such as these, and also with the help of government policy such as SmartZones, a study recently revealed that Michigan has moved up to No. 8 nationally in Small Tech development, California a leader in high-tech ranked No. 1. Numbers like these are important for a state that still lags behind the nation in unemployment rates. As this technology is developed, SmartZones will attract new companies to locate within in it. This will add new businesses as well as talent.

There have been similar partnerships in nearby Oakland County. The city of Southfield , which has also been declared a SmartZone teamed up with Lawrence Tech University. Rochester Hills made a similar pact with Oakland University. Together these cities make up the Oakland Automation Alley SmartZone. The partnerships allow undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity for internships and hands-on experience with high technology businesses. Many times students will be able to land jobs with these companies once they graduate. This will keep talent in the state of Michigan while increasing the tax base by adding high-tech jobs.


University/Industry Partnerships are helping to revitalize the Detroit region. This revitalization is being done through job training of the youth, as was the case with the Michigan Virtual University . Job training was not just aimed at youth, as other partnerships addressed particular groups. The Greenfield Coalition, trained and employed underserved minorities from the Detroit community, and the Ford/University of Detroit partnership trained Ford employees, thus giving them new opportunities for advancement. The final group of partnerships like that of NextEnergy, Wayne State , and the city of Detroit concentrate on research and technology development for the purposes of luring new businesses to the area. These last partnerships have the added dimension of state support. These partnerships address three concerns that are vital for economic development: labor (through training), retention (keeping businesses and labor force competitive) and, attraction (new businesses).

References and Related links:

Ford Computing Center

Michigan Virtual University

Greenfield Coalition

Center for Advanced Technologies

Focus:HOPE Career Center




Detroit Free Press Article

Detroit News Article

Detroit News Article Michigan No. 8 in small tech