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New Michigan Central CEO to Unlock Vision to Advance Future of Mobility at Innovation District

  • Joshua Sirefman brings decades of experience focused on innovation, tech and urban planning and development to his new role as CEO of Michigan Central, a 30-acre mobility innovation district in Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood
  • Sirefman, the co-founder and former president of New York City-based Sidewalk Labs, will lead the district in both its physical development and expansion of its programming, as the district enters a new phase of development in advancing its vision to help create a more accessible future for all through innovation
  • Michigan Central will have its own operations as an LLC, that is a subsidiary of Ford Motor company, as well its own not-for-profit philanthropic arm and business association

Michigan Central takes another important step today as it names Joshua Sirefman its new CEO. Sirefman will work to advance the vision for the district and execute a plan that leverages placemaking, cross-sector collaboration, and real estate development to promote innovation and inclusion.

A veteran of mobility innovation, tech and urban planning and development, Sirefman, 54, will not only lead the physical development of the district, but importantly the district’s Innovation Services Business that includes overseeing the innovation agenda set by Founding Members, like Ford and Google, and other public-private partners. The co-founder and former president of New York City-based Sidewalk Labs, Sirefman will identify and recruit new talent to the district and coordinate governance and reporting – all to enable sustained innovation activity.

“Joshua is the perfect fit to lead the development of Michigan Central,” said Mary Culler, chief of staff to Ford executive chair Bill Ford and president of Ford’s philanthropic arm, the Ford Fund. “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.”

Sirefman also served as Sidewalk Labs’ head of development and, most recently, senior advisor. His experience spans urban planning, commercial, technology and government in public, private, institutional and nonprofit sectors.

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

“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,” said Sirefman. “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.”

Michigan Central will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of Ford Motor Company. With Ford’s oversight, the newly created Michigan Central Innovation District LLC will manage operations and support core initiatives of the 30-acre district, located in Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood. Primary areas of focus include strategy and planning, business development, innovation services and mobility partnerships.

Sirefman also will help oversee Michigan Central’s newly established philanthropic arm, Michigan Central Foundation, that will provide charitable and educational training, programming and research for residents, students and businesses in the area, as well as science activities. Additionally, he will manage the business association that sets the innovation agenda of the district’s partners, supporting their projects and execution as they work toward collective mobility goals. The association will inspire the partners and the innovations they create, while also attracting new partners to Michigan Central and aligning public resources to achieve their shared goals.

Michigan Central recently announced Google and Ford as the first Founding Members of the District. Along with additional founding members, they will be part of a diverse group of companies at Michigan Central, collaborating on products, services and experiences that help define the future of mobility. Michigan Central also launched a public-private partnership with the state of Michigan and the city of Detroit focused on economic, workforce and community development and the designation of a Transportation Innovation Zone within the district, a first of its kind in the Midwest. The zone will be a place where companies of all sizes can pilot technologies in a safe, real-world environment thanks to improved and expedited review and approval processes with city administration.

A native of New York, Sirefman has a history of city-building in Detroit. He created and operated a program through Islandview Village Development Corporation, a nonprofit community redevelopment organization, that transformed a declining industrial corridor into a model urban industrial area while encouraging job growth and economic development. He co-designed a citywide grassroots industrial retention programs as a member of Detroit Economic Growth Corporation.

Restoration of Michigan Central Station, the anchor building of the innovation district, is set for completion in 2023. Innovation already underway includes pilots in development such as an app that helps visually impaired people navigate complicated urban landscapes in response to community needs, programs to support electrification of commercial fleets, plus rethinking how goods move on the first and last 50 feet of their journey. Michigan Central is partnering in a study to explore the feasibility of creating commercial drone testing corridors, and in a pilot project to make Michigan the first U.S. state to implement a public wireless electric vehicle charging system on a public road.