Skip to main content
Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

U-M seeks to bring jobs to Detroit with a $250M innovation center

a rendering for a six-story building
The six-story University of Michigan Center for Innovation in Detroit is expected to open in spring 2027. Lower floors will house programs for the public, while programs for graduate students will be on top floors. Eventually, two more buildings, including one residential, will join it. The building will be on Grand River and West Columbia, a few blocks east of the MGM Grand Casino. (Courtesy image)
  • The University of Michigan is expanding its presence in Detroit by building an innovation center
  • The building will bridge graduate–level academic programs and workforce development for Detroiters
  • The state contributed $100 million toward $250 million development

The University of Michigan plans to grow its footprint in Detroit by spring 2027 with the opening of a $250 million innovation center.

Plans call for the building — six floors and 200,000 square feet — to house both graduate-level programs and additional education initiatives targeted to Detroiters who may not have attended college yet are ready to increase their skills.

The development is among three key innovation centers taking shape in Detroit at a cost of over $1 billion. The others are the Michigan State University Innovation Center and Ford Motor Co.’s Newlab. The state of Michigan is spending $100 million toward the U-M project.

Scott Shireman, the inaugural director, said he envisions a dynamic building that attracts people from the city for its programs, while also appealing to grad students from around the world.

Scott Shireman wearing a light blue polo shirt
Scott Shireman is the inaugural director of the University of Michigan Center for Innovation in Detroit. Shireman’s background is in global and online education, most recently at Coursera. (Courtesy image)

Paula Gardner, Bridge Michigan’s business editor, spoke recently with Shireman. Here are excerpts from the conversation.

Q: This building initiative makes me think of two things: The University of Michigan's place as an economic driver for the state, and how Michigan needs Detroit to grow for statewide success. What is the innovation center’s role in that mix?

We want to catalyze economic development and job creation in Detroit. And the way we want to do it is with a focus on talent development. 


I'm new to Michigan. When I was looking at this job, I did a little bit of research and (saw that Amazon didn’t choose the city for its second headquarters). One of the reasons they gave was a talent gap. Not at the higher end, but in depth, like project managers and human resources managers. We want to help to fill in some of those gaps. 

Q: I keep hearing about engineering and software hiring needs. But you’re talking about other types of specialities?

We will have great elite graduate-degree programs, but we also want to have gateway certificate programs that Detroiters can do and qualify for some of those depths-of-talent kinds of jobs. And I think if we do that, I think it will attract industry and jobs to Detroit and to Michigan.

Q: What is the role for industry here?

We have four areas we're really focused on that we think will attract companies: Climate action and clean energy; urban technology and smart cities; advanced manufacturing and mobility, and entrepreneurship and innovation. 

Each can inspire a research center. We'll have graduate-degree programs that will be aligned to each of those verticals. So a master’s in robotics, for example, fits very well into advanced manufacturing. And then those gateway certificates would also be aligned with those verticals.

A company can take advantage of the research center, top graduate talent and all levels of talent … and we’ll have space so they can even start a business incubator.


Q: Workforce training frequently mentions ‘certificates.’ What does that mean in this case?

This is a gateway for someone right now who has some or no college education. They're ambitious and smart, but they're working in a gig or a retail job. And we’ll create a gateway for that person to an entry-level job in potential career paths. 

It will create the kind of talent that companies need for startups if they want to grow and scale in Michigan.

Q: Is U-M doing this in other areas? 

It’s new to U-M, but not new to other universities. University of California, Berkeley. UCLA does it, Georgia Tech does it, University of Washington, (University of) Wisconsin-Madison. I can go on and on. 

The University of Michigan is kind of unique in not really having offerings in this area. And so it is a landmark and it is innovative. It's also something that's been proven to work in other parts of the country.

Q: I started my journalism career in Washtenaw County, and 20 years ago you could get a good debate going by asking whether Ann Arbor is connected to Detroit. I’m thinking of that now as U-M expands its footprint in Detroit.

This is something that's very interesting to me. I used to work at UC Berkeley and I lived in Berkeley. I then went to work for Coursera, a big edtech company based in Mountain View. My home in Berkeley to my office in Mountain View was about 60 miles, but it felt like I was in one economic region. 

Now I live in (Detroit’s) Palmer Woods, and my home to my office in Ann Arbor is 43 miles. Yet it feels like completely different worlds. 

To me that is a challenge and an opportunity. I absolutely think Ann Arbor and Detroit need to be functioning as one economic region if we're going to compete with Chicago and we're going to compete with the Bay Area.

Q: Where's the university as a whole on that?

What I hear is that we want to be the university for Michigan, right? Not just the University of Michigan. 

President Santa Ono has said that several times. We want to be active and engaged in Detroit and we need to have more connection with Ann Arbor and Detroit. We need to function more as a unified region.

Q: The state is committing a lot of money to workforce training right now. Some of the programs blur for me. What is your distinctive selling point?

There's room for everyone here. I'm coming from a system that was collaborative, where we would work with the state colleges, we would work with the community colleges, we would create programs from one to the other. That's kind of the spirit I want to bring to this. 

I don't want to compete. I don't want to do anything redundant from what someone else is doing. But I do think there's a role and a place for U-M to play here.

Q: What are your enrollment goals?

We're launching our building in the summer of 2027. The first year is kind of tough, but I would like us to get to at least 500 students a year across the four graduate degrees within a few years. 

As a stretch goal, I would like to get 1,000.

In the gateway certificate programs, I'd like to get 2,000. It sounds like a lot. But I think it's a relatively modest goal when you look at what other elite public (universities) are doing. I would really like to 30,000 Detroiters a year across those various programs. 

Q: Detroit’s unemployment rate is forecast to be around 8% this year, twice the forecast for the state. There are challenges in the city.

I think there are a lot of people that are ambitious and smart, and they're really craving something like this. And what's going to make this successful or not is not only are we educating, but are we actually bringing in companies that want to hire that talent. 

When I look at what's happening in cities like Atlanta, or even Columbus, Ohio, it's proven that universities can make an impact and employers will come if there is the kind of talent that they want to hire.

Q: I’ve been told that many in Michigan were shocked that amid talent shortages, Michigan’s hometown Ford Motor Co. opened an office in Atlanta. 

Why is Atlanta doing so well? Two things you see just time and time again. One is companies are attracted to Black and diverse talent. Detroit is the largest majority Black city in the country. That's something we should be able to compete with Atlanta on.

Number two, they say Georgia Tech graduates more technology graduates than any other university in the country. 

Q: How did you make the decision to come here?

I grew up in the Midwest. So in a lot of ways for me, this is a bit of a homecoming. Even though I'm not from Michigan or from Detroit, I feel very comfortable here. So far, I love it.


Q: Can you describe a barrier that you've found or a challenge that needs to be solved? 

The one thing that I think we have to work on as a region is transportation. That's been a big shock to me. I love to drive. But I wish that there were also other options for getting around.

Q: What would be your message to people around the state who may not feel a connection to either U-M or Detroit?

When we have employers wanting to be in Detroit, that creates wealth for the whole state.

How impactful was this article for you?

Business Watch

Covering the intersection of business and policy, and informing Michigan employers and workers on the long road back from coronavirus.

Thanks to our Business Watch sponsors.

Support Bridge's nonprofit civic journalism. Donate today.

Only donate if we've informed you about important Michigan issues

See what new members are saying about why they donated to Bridge Michigan:

  • “In order for this information to be accurate and unbiased it must be underwritten by its readers, not by special interests.” - Larry S.
  • “Not many other media sources report on the topics Bridge does.” - Susan B.
  • “Your journalism is outstanding and rare these days.” - Mark S.

If you want to ensure the future of nonpartisan, nonprofit Michigan journalism, please become a member today. You, too, will be asked why you donated and maybe we'll feature your quote next time!

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Pay with PayPal Donate Now