Like Detroit, the City of Southfield is in resurgence and evolving into a new-age Silicon Valley. The Southfield Centrepolis SmartZone is helping Southfield gain attention as a hub for innovation and technology, and the Mayor of Southfield is at the helm, leading the charge.
The Mayor is truly a mover and shaker—someone who moves things forward and gets things done. Always looking to the future, he believes that by investing in the people, spaces, and businesses in the city, Southfield will continue to thrive, attract and retain talent, and gain its rightful reputation as a business destination with incredible resources and opportunity.
Why Southfield? Why did you want to start working here, get involved in the community, and eventually become Mayor?
Since I was a kid I’ve always gotten involved. I think if you want to see things happen, you need to roll up your sleeves. I’m very hands-on and I’m willing to get my hands dirty; I don’t just direct people. There are always new ideas to pursue and things you can make better. Time keeps marching on, so we need to keep up with change—whether that’s technology or any other advancement. That’s really what I’ve dedicated my whole life to.
What sets Southfield apart as a business destination?
First of all, we are in the population center of Southeastern Michigan and we are also in the geographic center of Southeastern Michigan—there is a reason our slogan is “The Center of it All.”
We also have excellent infrastructure and a network of freeways that come through the city and make it very easy to get from here to any place in the metro region. We also have a great business address with 29 million square feet of office space. And for business professionals that are relocating, we have a wide range of housing options—high-rise living, townhouses, single-family homes, and condos.
Southfield is also halfway between the Oakland County Courthouse and Wayne County Courthouse, that’s why a lot of law firms are located here. We are also a media hub with a number of radio stations here—channels 2, 7, 4, and 20.
What was the motivation behind Southfield Centrepolis and becoming home to one of Michigan’s SmartZones?
As the world of technology has advanced, the SmartZone became another tool to attract businesses. Today, we’re all interfacing continually with electronic media and the SmartZone takes advantage of the fiber optics and the innovations happening here.
We also want to attract and retain talent here. We have opportunities with new companies like Nexcess, P3, Stefanini, and 123Net to name a few. Then we have the existing companies that are doing some phenomenal things in the way of technology. Southfield doesn’t have a GM, Ford, or Chrysler, but we do have virtually everybody that supplies them—from Durr and BASF, to Comau and Lear. All of these auto-related companies are interfacing with one another.
How does Lawrence Technological University and the LTU Collaboratory support the mission of the SmartZone?
We’re very glad that we have Lawrence Technological University as part of our SmartZone, I’m just so impressed with the things that come out of that university. The LTU Collaboratory is a sterling private-public partnership between Lawrence Tech, the City of Southfield, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) SmartZone Network, and the Michigan Works Association. They are developing patents there, working with startup companies, and funding ideas.
This type of resource is important because we lost a whole generation that moved out of state, to the west coast, D.C., Atlanta, Texas, and Chicago. I think we have a “brain drain”, and it is something the governor talks about. There are a number of very good jobs that we need to attract talent for, so what the LTU Collaboratory is doing is bringing and keeping people here.
I said to the president to of LTU, Dr. Moudgil, “This is kind of like grad school—you develop this talent and you have young people that are doing phenomenal things and coming up with the next wave of innovation.” So, why should we lose them to the Silicon Valley or other places when they can grow and develop something here?
Where do you see the Southfield business community in the next 15 years?
I think we’re going to see a growth in population, and I believe if you have strong neighborhoods, you’ll have strong businesses. Nothing stays the same, and as our housing stock has aged, I’ve made it a priority to reinvest in our neighborhoods and we are doing that big time and spending millions.
I also hope that if the economy holds, we will have a fully redeveloped Northland Mall site, and we have a lot of business interest expressed in it. When you look at Northland, you see that it’s connected to two major freeways and mile roads— it’s so accessible that it’s an attractive piece of property. Technically it’s a ‘brownfield’ but to me in many ways it’s a ‘greenfield’ in the sense that there is 120-acres that is going to be redeveloped and reimagined. And unlike a greenfield where you have to bring infrastructure in, the infrastructure is there including the sewers and utilities. I see research and development there. I see housing there. Providence Hospital is moving south to that property. The other area I see growing is across from city hall.
We are also seeing tremendous reinvestment in existing office space here. Town Center alone has spent $6 million and they are still working on the parking structure and the main lobby. We have also done studies that say we can use more hotel rooms in Southfield to support business travelers. The new owner of Hawthorn Suites is putting well over a million dollars in refurbishing and extended stay, the Westin is doing extremely well, and another hotel is totally booked for the Robotics competition happening at Cobo Hall.
How else are you and the city supporting the growth and success of startups and entrepreneurs?
We have a business development office that works very hard to find space and make connections with businesses—we regularly entertain people here who are interested. I’m also a fan of the Chamber of Commerce as a partner, and I don’t want to forget to mention that Southfield was the 9th Michigan city to be named “redevelopment ready.” These are all things that are helping businesses grow here, and we work with businesses on the incentives that the State of Michigan offers.
As Mayor, my job entails being an advocate, an ombudsman, and an ambassador for the city, which includes Southfield Centrepolis. I have people that I talk to all the time that are doubtful that a young professional will come work here, and I tell them the success stories that other people had. I think there is great opportunity here—for talent, businesses, and innovation— you can’t listen to all the noise.