Economy, Auto
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Ford Eyes to Tap Tech-Minded Talent

Ford Eyes to Tap Tech-Minded TalentFord Eyes to Tap Tech-Minded Talent

Ford Motor Co. wants to convert an infamous symbol of Detroit’s long, sad decline—a rotting train station that towers over the city’s oldest neighborhood—into a beacon for the automaker’s efforts to prosper in the future.

Ford’s board of directors this week is expected to consider a plan to buy the Michigan Central Station and rehabilitate it as the centerpiece of an urban campus that would help the company battle Silicon Valley for young, tech-minded talent to develop and build the self-driving vehicles of tomorrow. It would also give the Ford family a major role in the revival of the city where its automaking empire began 115 years ago, Automotive News reported.

Edsel Ford II, a Ford director and cousin of Executive Chairman Bill Ford, confirmed the plan last week, saying the automaker wants to “cluster” its autonomous and electric vehicle operations in one spot. Ford Motor is preparing to move 220 people into a renovated former hosiery factory several blocks from the train station and is nearing deals to buy almost 50 properties in the surrounding neighborhood, known as Corktown, according to Crain’s Detroit Business, an affiliate of Automotive News. The 18-story train station alone is large enough to house at least 2,000 to 3,000 employees.

“Bill’s excited about it, and I’m excited about it,” Edsel Ford told Crain’s last week, calling the plan a potential “big redevelopment of southwest Detroit.”

On the surface, such a big, costly move seems at odds with the work Ford has begun to slash $25 billion in costs over the next five years. And it is even more peculiar considering Ford’s leaders are just two years removed from touting a 10-year, $1 billion redesign of its headquarters and product development campus in suburban Dearborn.

 Vital Factor

But experts say that for young, in-demand talent weighing which company to join, the physical space where they would work is just as vital as the work they would be doing.

“Younger workers are interested in creating impact. It feels good to work in a space that’s historically significant,” said Ken Ashley, executive director at Cushman & Wakefield, a real estate services firm.

Ford does its engineering and product development in a maze of 1950s-era buildings isolated by vast parking lots and human-made lakes.

In April 2016, the company unveiled plans to transform the Dearborn campus that were estimated to cost as much as $1.2 billion. Among the goals was to centralize more employees, doubling the number of people who worked there to about 24,000.

A second phase of the plan would include major renovations of the Ford World Headquarters complex, including Ford Motor Credit Co.

The master plan was finished, and construction was underway, but when CEO Jim Hackett replaced Mark Fields last May, a team of architects and designers was brought in to re-evaluate the plan.

The train station, abandoned 30 years ago and largely exposed to the elements until new windows were installed in 2015, could cost hundreds of millions to renovate. Edsel Ford said the automaker’s board does not necessarily need to formally vote on a deal, “but it requires buy-in.”

While it is unclear how much of Ford’s Dearborn plan would remain in place, the company now believes that housing its up-and-coming creative talent away from its headquarters could pay dividends.

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