Ned Staebler is vice president for economic development at Wayne State University, responsible for using the university’s assets as a catalyst for growth across the university and community. Before joining Wayne State, he worked in the private sector for a decade before serving as vice president for entrepreneurial and capital services at the Michigan Economic Development Corp.  

As vice president for economic development at Wayne State, what are some of the university’s major projects and initiatives to date that have aimed to improve the economy of Detroit?

“Wayne State has an economic impact of over $2 billion per year on the state of Michigan. But, I think that its most important contribution is the role it plays in the revitalization of the state’s largest city, Detroit. We’re the state’s only urban research university, and we take our mission of providing access to a world-class education while being a good neighbor in a good neighborhood very seriously.

In the past decade, Wayne State has invested more than a $1 billion into its physical infrastructure – more than 100 buildings on 200 acres located in the heart of Midtown. We’ve tripled the number of students living on campus and partnered with the Detroit Medical Center and Henry Ford Health Systems on the Live Midtown Initiative for our employees, adding much needed density and vibrancy to the neighborhood.

We’re an investor in M-1 rail; we brought Zipcars to Detroit; and we’ve launched TechTown as a community resource to help start-up businesses across the city in a wide variety of industries.

Perhaps, the university’s most important contribution here in Detroit is to public safety. Over the past four years, our force of 55 fully deputized and sworn police officers has changed both the reality and perception of crime in Midtown. Collaborating with community partners, the Detroit Police Department, the Wayne County Sheriff, and the Wayne State Center for Urban Studies, our police force has implemented a proactive, statistically-based policing model into a four square mile radius around the campus. The result – crime is down more than 50 percent, sparking the economic revival we’re now experiencing.”

What new initiatives are in the works at WSU that will have an economic impact?

Right now, construction is underway on the Multidisciplinary Biomedical Research Building, our largest construction project to date. When completed, the $93 million building will bring together 450 to 500 faculty and research staff from across the university on groundbreaking research.

We’re in discussions with several private developers on major mixed use projects in the neighborhood that will accelerate Midtown’s transition to a 24-hour walkable urban neighborhood.We’ve completed a feasibility study for a public bike sharing program for the greater downtown. When implemented, residents across the greater downtown area will have access to an additional transportation option that is affordable, convenient and healthy!

What are your feelings about the bankruptcy announcement, and what do you envision for the city of Detroit?

I think it’s important to remember that the bankruptcy has a meaningful impact on the lives of real people. There are 20,000 retirees who right now are at risk of losing all or part of their healthcare and pensions, which on average are less than $19,000 a year. They didn’t choose to underfund accounts or to ‘kick the can’ down the road. Yet, the reality is that there isn’t enough money to satisfy the city’s obligations to them and unsecured creditors and still provide public services today.

Having said that, the can has been kicked down the road for a long time, and Detroit (and other municipalities are not far behind) is going to have to reorganize how it does things. Likely, much of the services the city provides now (water, electricity distribution, public transportation) will be privatized or regionalized. And, at the end of the day, if that results in more reliable and efficient provisions of services to residents, that’s a good thing. What’s important is that the core assets of the city that make it attractive to residents are protected and enhanced.

As for the progress that’s happening in and around Greater Downtown, including Midtown? That appears to be going full steam ahead. All of the developers we work with are continuing with their plans without hesitation. The sense seems to be this: progress was happening without any support from the city already, so the city’s bankruptcy won’t affect it.

What do you feel are some important steps needed to help Detroit become a sustainable city again? Are there any projects WSU is involved in that are aimed at helping deteriorating neighborhoods and schools in Detroit?

Ultimately, Detroit needs increased public safety, better and more efficient services, and increased density of residents, businesses and investment. These will lead to a revitalized civic infrastructure and a larger tax base. Wayne State is a leader in helping the city with all of these issues.

I’ve already mentioned the public safety and residential incentive initiatives. But, we’re also working on the civic infrastructure as well. Through our Center for Urban Studies, we’ve helped establish more than a 100 Americorps block clubs, connecting and empowering thousands of residents that were formerly isolated. We’ve created the Detroit Revitalization Fellows Program, just beginning its second cohort, which has helped to develop, attract, and retain more than 50 emerging leaders in the non-profit and business communities.

And, across the university, Wayne State Warriors are engaged in literally hundreds of partnerships with groups – schools, social service agencies, neighborhood organizations, community development groups – working to make Detroit a better, safer place to live, work, and play. Our researchers and educators are active in the Detroit Public Schools, developing new teaching methods, testing new educational delivery models, mentoring students, integrating technology, and providing scholarships.

We actively support efforts to improve the food delivery systems in the city and run a weekly farmers market and several community gardens.

Also, Wayne State has a profound effect on public health outcomes in Detroit. Wayne is the nation’s largest single-campus medical school and the only one based in Detroit. We’ve trained 40 percent of the region’s doctors. WSU sponsors a number of community-service and health awareness programs in southeastern Michigan, including mental-health screenings, Diabetes Day, the Community Health Child Immunization Project, the Detroit Cardiovascular Coalition and Brain Awareness Week. Our faculty and students conduct numerous free and reduced price clinics. And, along with our partners at the Detroit Medical Center and Henry Ford Health System, we provide hundreds of millions of dollars in uncompensated care annually. In addition, we are home to the National Institutes of Health’s Perinatology Research Branch – an initiative that conducts clinical and basic research in perinatal medicine and related disciplines with the goal of developing novel diagnostic, therapeutic and preventive strategies to reduce adverse pregnancy outcomes, infant mortality and disability, as well as provide research training for physicians, scientists and other health care professionals.

Wayne State University, along with our URC partners, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, are greatly committed to the rebirth of the city of Detroit by being engines of economic growth. Individually and as partners, we can help fuel business growth and innovation, aiding in an improved quality of life for all who are a part of this great city.