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Detroit Moves Forum: Key Takeaways and Learning Opportunities in Mobility

As I reflect on the recent Detroit Moves Forum, I am both energized and inspired by the dynamic discussions that took place. This gathering wasn’t just about mobility; it was about forging a future that thrives on innovative transportation solutions right here in the heart of Detroit—a city that shares a pulse with Windsor in many more ways than one.

Why Windsor-Detroit Matters

The Windsor-Detroit axis is not just a line on a map but a vital artery pulsing with life and commerce. Every day, more than 40,000 commuters, tourists and truck drivers cross this border, and goods worth close to $1 billion in trade value make the same journey, underscoring the economic scale and personal connectivity of this unique region.

Our partnership, encapsulated through MOUs and collaborations on projects like air mobility corridorscross-border technology testing, and the construction of a new world-class bridge, transcends mere proximity. These initiatives do more than just bridge two points; they bridge cultures, economies, and industries in a dynamic interplay of growth and innovation.

The recent record-setting NFL draft highlighted our interconnectivity when the opening day festivities saw 3,200 sports fans and visitors transported via transit across the border, celebrating a shared passion that unites our communities. This event is a testament to the vibrant and interconnected nature of Windsor and Detroit—a microcosm of our daily interactions and shared economic ventures.

In alignment with these collaborative efforts, WETechAlliance continues to build connections with initiatives like Women in Mobility Detroit, fostering a community where women in the mobility sector can engage, share insights, and drive innovation together. This relationship with Women in Mobility Detroit sparked the creation of our own Women in Mobility program in 2022, further solidifying our commitment to inclusive growth and diversity within the mobility landscape.

Key Takeaways from Detroit Moves Forum

1. Transit and Economic Development:

A resounding consensus at the forum was that transit is integral to economic development. The desire for robust transit options is a crucial factor for companies considering relocation and is a growing preference among the younger generation who may be moving away from traditional car ownership. Echoing this sentiment, although not present at the event, Dan Gilbert has highlighted the changing attitudes towards car ownership, noting, “Younger generations ‘brag’ about not having to own a car, and ensuring they can do so here is key to the region’s growth.” This perspective underscores the importance of developing accessible and efficient transit systems to attract and retain the next generation of talent and sustain regional growth.

2. Fostering Innovation in Detroit: Streamlining for New Technologies:

Detroit is rapidly emerging as a significant tech hub, notably illustrated at venues like Newlab Detroit where startups and Fortune 500 companies innovate together. This dynamic environment is fostered by the city’s proactive approach to support emerging technologies, a commitment exemplified by Mayor Duggan’s discussion on adaptive city policies.

A standout example is the introduction of the Technology Innovation Zone Permit, designed to streamline the regulatory process for innovators. This initiative was sparked by a pizza delivery robot startup, which initially faced regulatory challenges due to outdated permit policies. Recognizing the need for flexibility in its policies, Detroit adapted quickly, creating a framework that not only facilitated this specific startup but also paved the way for future technologies.

Adding to this innovative spirit, Detroit appointed Tim Slusser as the Chief Mobility Officer. His role underscores the city’s commitment to shaping a future focused on advanced mobility solutions. I had to chuckle during Mayor Duggan’s remarks when he humorously warned, “I told Tim, if he starts thinking like government, he’s fired.” This light-hearted comment reflects the city’s determination to maintain a fresh, entrepreneurial approach in governing, ensuring that bureaucracy never stifles innovation.

3. The Power of Partnerships:

The forum underscored the importance of partnerships. Initiatives like the Detroit Smart Parking Lab highlight successful collaborations between major corporations (Ford, Bosch, and Bedrock) and local entities, testing connected parking, mobility solutions, last mile, and EV charging technologies. These partnerships are not just about technology; they are about creating robust ecosystems where various stakeholders, including startups, can contribute and thrive.

4. Transit for All: Why Everyone Benefits

During the Detroit Moves Forum, a panelist addressed a common misconception: “I don’t ride the bus, so why should I care?” She highlighted that even if one doesn’t use public transit, it indirectly supports many in our communities—like grocery store cashiers, caregivers, nurses, and tutors—by providing reliable and affordable transportation. This not only helps individuals perform essential roles but also contributes to less road congestion and a healthier environment, benefiting everyone.

5. Inclusivity in Mobility

One panel at the forum highlighted that true inclusivity in mobility extends beyond accommodating people with disabilities; it also encompasses ensuring safe and accessible transportation options for everyone in the community. This includes service workers like waitresses, who often finish their shifts late at night. Ensuring that they have safe, reliable transportation options to get home is not just a matter of convenience but a fundamental aspect of equitable urban planning and social justice.

6. Exploring New Frontiers in Mobility

The Detroit Moves Forum discussed an array of mobility innovations, highlighting not only connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs), electric vehicles (EVs), shared mobility, and last-mile solutions but also emphasizing recreational technology (RecTech). RecTech enhances leisure experiences through innovative use of technology, not just in the conventional sense of outdoor activities but integrating tech into all aspects of recreation.

The event also marked the announcement of two autonomous shuttle pilots set to launch this summer in Detroit, reflecting the city’s proactive role in driving future mobility trends. Additionally, Michigan is positioning itself as a potential leader in the outdoor recreational technology sector. The state aims to harness its vast natural resources and strong industry presence to create a “Rec Tech Valley.”

A key development discussed at the forum was David Ollila’s latest endeavor, ShopHouse Park in Marquette. This mixed-use facility aims to be an incubator for outdoor recreation innovation, providing a unique base for startups and corporations against the backdrop of Michigan’s expansive natural landscape, with access to eight million acres of forest and 10,000 miles of trails. This initiative exemplifies the strategic collaborations that are setting Michigan apart in the burgeoning field of RecTech.

Looking Ahead: Windsor Moves

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Drawing inspiration from the Detroit Moves Forum, I find myself contemplating the potential of a similar initiative in Windsor. Imagine a “Windsor Moves” Forum—what conversations could we ignite? What innovations could we foster? How many new collaborations could we cultivate?

The future of mobility is not just about the technology we create but also about the communities we connect and the lives we improve. As leaders, innovators, and citizens, our involvement in these conversations is crucial.

As we look to the future of mobility and innovation, don’t miss a prime opportunity to witness Detroit’s thriving mobility ecosystem at the grand opening of Michigan Central from June 6-16. Michigan Central, that grand old train station we’ve all admired from across the border, is getting a new lease on life. The “Michigan Central OPEN” event features an opening night concert with Detroit performers and a 10-day open house showcasing the station’s revitalization. It’s your chance to see a beloved landmark transformed into a hub of innovation. Registration for free events and tours opens to the public on May 21. Don’t just watch from afar—come and be part of the excitement!

I want to express my gratitude to the Forum co-founders—Katelyn, Vittoria, Corinne, and Janine—for allowing me the opportunity to participate. Your dedication to driving mobility innovation has sparked valuable dialogue. It was an honor to emcee this event, and I (and region) look forward to the continuing impact of our discussions and bi-national relationships. Thank you for making this forum possible!

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Yvonne Pilon is the President and CEO of WETechAlliance. At the age of 24, she founded her first tech venture, AD2IT, and by the age of 29, became the youngest woman to lead a Regional Innovation Centre. Yvonne has over 10 years of experience in the tech sector with a core focus on growing companies and building a thriving entrepreneurial community.

WETechAlliance is one of seventeen Regional Innovation Centres, funded by the Province of Ontario, serving the Windsor-Essex and Chatham-Kent regions. We provide entrepreneurs with business services, training, perks, mentorship and strategic connections to help bring new ideas to market, scale to the next level and build a dynamic culture and a community of innovation. WETechAlliance has served as the catalyst for technology and innovation in the Windsor-Essex + Chatham-Kent regions since 2011.

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