Ford has announced ambitious plans to renovate its historic headquarters and R&D hub in Dearborn, Michigan, near Detroit. The company hasn’t revealed a price tag, but it’s estimated to be in the billions of dollars over the next decade. Across several complexes of buildings in the Detroit area, there will be new open, collaborative workspaces; green spaces and walking paths; e-bikes, autonomous vehicles and other alternative modes of transport to get around; zero-emission and zero-waste green buildings; and Silicon Valley–style workplace perks like fancy coffee, food and break rooms.
After the shock of the recession, Ford’s sales are booming again, as are those of GM and Chrysler. But Brett Smith, program director at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said the company hasn’t significantly updated its professional and technical facilities since the Nixon administration.
“You walk through and you realize the history,” Smith said. “But those buildings—they’re wood-paneled, they’re dark, they don’t strike you as a place that’s fun to work, that’s creative.”
The types of “fun” and “creative” workplaces Detroit’s Big Three automakers are competing against for top engineering and computer talent are places like Google and Tesla. Those and other technology companies are trying to become major players in the emerging auto industry — developing self-driving vehicles; electric and other alternative-fuel vehicles; and networked vehicles.
Industrial relations professor Gary Chaison at Clark University said, “Ford and the other domestic producers are saying: ‘We are a sexy business, come to Detroit and see what we’re all about. You’ll be surprised.’”
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