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Ford names mobility veteran as CEO of Michigan Central

February 22, 2022
Crain’s Detroit Business 
Feb. 21, 2022
Arielle Kass

Ford Motor Co. has named a CEO of Michigan Central, the innovation district the Dearborn-based automaker is building in and around the old train station in Detroit.

Joshua Sirefman, the co-founder and former president of Sidewalk Labs in New York, will take the helm of the district. Sirefman, 54, will be responsible for the real estate development, as well as collaboration across different sectors, Ford said in a news release Monday. He’ll be in charge of the Innovation Services Business that oversees the agenda set by Ford, Google and other partners in the collaborative space.

Sirefman will also focus on recruitment and placemaking, as well as coordinating governance of the site to ensure there’s sustainable innovation activity that takes place there.

His role will include oversight of Michigan Central Foundation, the new philanthropic arm that will provide training, programming and research for residents, students and businesses in the area.

Sirefman is the “perfect fit” to lead the development, Mary Culler, chief of staff to Ford Executive Chair Bill Ford and president of Ford’s philanthropic arm, the Ford Fund, said in the release.

“His experience in mobility, developmental planning and community engagement — which was especially important to us — will be key to helping guide the district’s team and partners along the path to meaningful innovation that truly helps in creating a more accessible future for all,” Culler said.

“Like all things, the best ideas in mobility come from diverse perspectives and I firmly believe Michigan Central is uniquely positioned to both catalyze such ideas and support the long-term vitality of Detroit,” Sirefman said in the release. “I see this incredible asset — Michigan Central — and the work developed and piloted here living at the nexus of physical, social and economic mobility. As an open platform welcoming all to break new boundaries in innovation across all three fronts, we have an exciting opportunity to be a world-leading place of impact — starting with Detroit communities and extending outward.”

Sirefman is a New York native, but has ties to Detroit through the creation and operation of a program through the Islandview Village Development Corp., a nonprofit community redevelopment organization. The program transformed a declining industrial corridor into a model urban industrial area while encouraging job growth and economic development. Sirefman also co-designed a citywide grassroots industrial retention program as a member of Detroit Economic Growth Corp.

His experience includes urban planning, technology and government in the public, private, institutional and nonprofit sectors. Sirefman has a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Michigan and a bachelor’s from Wesleyan University.

Sidewalk Labs was founded as an Alphabet company focused on urban innovation. Prior to its creation, Sirefman started Sirefman Ventures, a development services firm that leads transformative projects for corporate, nonprofit and government entities. It led Cornell University’s bid in a New York City competition to attract a new applied sciences graduate program and helped lead the development of the Cornell Tech campus. Sirefman also was a member of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s economic development team and oversaw development in the United States for Brookfield Properties.

Michigan Central will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of Ford Motor Co. The 30-acre district will focus on strategy and planning, business development, innovation services and mobility partnerships.

The district’s goals include the future of mobility and through Michigan Central, a public-private partnership including Michigan and Detroit designated a Transportation Innovation Zone at Michigan Central, the first in the Midwest. It will allow companies to pilot technologies in a safe, real-world environment.

The former train station that anchors the district is set to open in 2023. Work is already being done through Michigan Central, including an app that helps visually impaired people navigate complicated urban landscapes, programs to support electrification of commercial fleets and work toward changing how goods move on the first and last 50 feet of their journey.

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