Working towards a prosperous Detroit: Wayne State Office of Economic Development celebrates 10 years

This year, TechTown Detroit honored the 10th anniversary of Wayne State University’s Office of Economic Development (OED) during its annual “Toast of the Town” fundraising event. The event, which broadcasted virtually to an audience of 1,000 viewers, also highlighted how OED and TechTown have worked closely together through the years to develop and support businesses across Detroit. 

Economic development is more critical than ever, as communities work to recover from the devastating impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, including the loss of many small, local businesses. As OED commemorates a milestone anniversary, organizers point to past successes to demonstrate the office's impact on the city of Detroit, and what role it might play post-COVID.

OED was established in 2011 by Wayne State University (WSU) President Allan Gilmour (2011-2013) in the aftermath of the Great Recession to and elevate the university’s economic impact and stimulate growth. 

With Ned Staebler, appointed by Gilmour, at the helm as vice president for economic development, Wayne State became one of the first universities in the country to construct a cabinet-level office to develop and lead economic development planning. The efforts of the office aided in the critical development of businesses in the Midtown and Detroit areas. 

Over the past decade, OED contributed to numerous success stories across the city of Detroit. It served as a catalyst for MoGo and Woodward | Warren Park on Wayne State’s campus and raised money for public safety, helping reduce crime in Midtown by 50%. Most recently, it spearheaded the effort to provide free transportation options for all enrolled students as well as full- and part-time employees, via partnerships with DDOT, SMART, the QLine, and MoGo.

“I’m incredibly proud of OED’s work over the last ten years, and deeply grateful for the support our office has enjoyed from two successive university presidents, as well as the broader Wayne State and Detroit communities,” says Staebler. “In addition to signature initiatives like the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses-Detroit and Detroit Revitalization Fellows programs, OED has raised more than $5 million for projects that make our campus and our city more inviting, accessible, equitable, and connected. In the next decade, we hope to build on these successes and realize the university’s vision for a vibrant Detroit and Michigan with equitable access to opportunity and lasting prosperity for all.”

OED has grown in size and scope, overseeing numerous programs and initiatives designed to meet the needs of the community and city. One of these programs is Detroit Revitalization Fellows, a two-year leadership development program that has placed more than 80 mid-career professionals front and center since 2011 as leaders in Detroit's civic, community, and economic development landscape.

Another OED program driving economic growth is Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, a $500 million investment to help entrepreneurs create jobs and economic opportunities by providing them with greater access to education, financial capital, and business support services. To date, nearly 600 small business owners from across Michigan have graduated from the program. 

The entrepreneurial hub TechTown Detroit, also led by Staebler as president and CEO, functions as a nonprofit business service organization that works hand-in-hand with Wayne State and OED. Originally established to accelerate tech-based spinoffs from the university, TechTown now offers programs, education, collaborative workspace, and resources for small neighborhood businesses and tech companies in the early-to-growth stage. Since 2007, TechTown has served over 4,500 businesses, which created 1,600 jobs and raised $172 million and startup and growth capital. 

Current WSU president, M. Roy Wilson, serves as chair of TechTown’s board of directors and is a strong advocate for both OED and TechTown. Recognizing the role the two organizations played in the growth and influence of Detroit’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and community, Wilson also acknowledges the benefits the university receives from the city. “As we celebrate this milestone anniversary, we acknowledge that Wayne State University benefits from its location in the great city of Detroit as much as the city benefits from the university’s presence,” says Wilson. “We also know that our work is more important than ever. TechTown and Wayne State are helping our community emerge from the economic challenges of today, and we are ready to embrace the economic opportunities of tomorrow.”

Now, as OED marks its 10th anniversary, its leaders are working in close collaboration with campus and community members to help the city and region emerge from today's economic difficulties ready to embrace the opportunities of tomorrow. Equitable economic development will continue to be the core focus as OED strategizes for the future of the office and the university.