Wayne State's Office of Economic Development celebrates 10 years as A Catalyst for Growth
Woodward | Warren Park. The Detroit Public Lighting Authority. MoGo. The growth of nearly 800 small businesses, largely Black- and women-owned, like The Social Club and Walker-Miller Energy. Free transit passes for Wayne State students. Fundraising and support for the Wayne State University (WSU) Police Department. Live Midtown. Over the last decade, all of these projects and more have been launched, led or impacted by Wayne State’s Office of Economic Development (OED).
When then-WSU President Allan Gilmour (2011-13) established OED in 2011, Wayne State became one of the first universities in the U.S. to create a cabinet-level office to lead economic development strategy. But the origins of the office date back to WSU President Irvin D. Reid (1997-2008), who envisioned a greater role for the university as an anchor institution and economic driver, as engaged and invested in our neighborhood and city as with our core educational mission. The university’s influence, President Reid recognized, is considerable: Wayne State is one of the 10 largest employers in Detroit, with an annual economic impact of over $2 billion. Its commitment to the city should be, too.
Many of today’s students take it for granted that they can live on campus, walk to class and enjoy Midtown restaurants, shops and night life. But it was President Reid who initiated the expansion of on-campus housing, which has been instrumental in transforming Wayne State into a more residential campus with 24/7 activity. Increased neighborhood density has created demand for new businesses and venues—since 2014, 178 small businesses and nonprofits have opened or expanded in Midtown. It’s also made our campus safer and more walkable, and created a stronger sense of community.
When President Gilmour established OED, he tapped Ned Staebler, a native Detroiter and vice president with the Michigan Economic Development Corp., to be the university’s first vice president for economic development. During President Gilmour’s tenure, the university helped launch Live Midtown, a home-buying and home-renovation incentive which attracted and retained more than 2,000 residents in the neighborhood, including 571 Wayne State employees. The university also invested in the QLINE streetcar, and President Gilmour supported OED’s efforts to bring Zipcar to campus and lay the groundwork for the MoGo citywide bike sharing system. Lisa Nuszkowski, one of OED’s first team members, went on to become MoGo’s executive director, recently departing that position to become president of the QLINE.
Charged with elevating the university’s economic impact and stimulating growth in the wake of the Great Recession, OED has grown in size and scope, overseeing numerous programs and initiatives designed to meet the needs of our community and city in a given moment. These include the Detroit Revitalization Fellows, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses and Blackstone Launchpad, predecessor to the WSU Innovation Studio. In 2015, Staebler was concurrently named president and CEO of TechTown Detroit, another initiative of President Reid’s. While initially founded to accelerate university spinoffs, TechTown now supports hundreds of tech and neighborhood businesses each year through a range of programs and services. With a shared commitment to strengthening Detroit by sustaining and growing startups and small businesses, OED and TechTown work hand in hand.
In addition to leading programs and initiatives, OED serves as a convenor and connector, ensuring the university’s investments and efforts maximize impact. This work is being recognized nationally. In 2014, Wayne State was named an Innovation and Economic Prosperity university by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities—a designation honoring higher education institutions that have demonstrated a commitment to economic engagement.
Today, as Detroit emerges from another economic crisis, OED is working in close partnership with current President M. Roy Wilson, along with its many partners across the university, to create a sustained recovery on our campus and across Detroit. Economic development has become so central to Wayne State’s mission that it will be included in the next strategic plan.
“As an anchor institution, Wayne State has both the responsibility and the tremendous opportunity to be a leader in strengthening Midtown and Detroit,” says President Wilson. “As we emerge from another economic crisis, the greatest of our time, we remain committed to this role and to helping drive a sustained and equitable recovery.”
Staebler says community and collaboration have been key to OED’s success: “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. Together, we're advancing OED’s mission to strengthen the Detroit region’s neighborhoods, businesses and leaders, creating equitable opportunity and lasting prosperity for all.”