The Detroit Region Aerotropolis (also referred to as the Detroit Aerotropolis or Michigan Aerotropolis) is an initiative to create an “aerotropolis” or airport-city in Southeast Michigan surrounding Detroit Metropolitan Airport and Willow Run Airport. Located just 10 miles (16 km) apart and situated along Interstate 94 (I-94), this dual-airport system is unique in terms of other aerotropolis-oriented developments around the world. The amount of undeveloped land between and surrounding the airports along with excess runway capacity at the airports are among primary drivers behind the initiative. Other factors such as the location of a major border crossing with Canada to the east, mature road and rail infrastructure, and the area’s major academic institutions have all driven the idea of taking advantage of the airports for the region’s overall economic benefit.
The discussion of developing an aerotropolis around Detroit Metropolitan Airport and Willow Run Airport dates back to the 1980s when Northwest Airlines helped make Detroit Metropolitan Airport a major hub for passenger travel. The aerotropolis concept was then advanced under the administration of Wayne County Chief Executive Edward H. McNamara who played a critical role in the expansion and upgrade of Detroit Metro’s infrastructure and terminals. At the same time, Willow Run Airport, once the primary location for the manufacturing of B-24 bombers during World War II, grew to be one of the busiest on-demand cargo airports in North America, serving the needs of the automotive industry.
In 2002 both airports were spun off from Wayne County control and placed under the current Wayne County Airport Authority. Following the retirement of Wayne County Executive Edward H. McNamara, the aerotropolis project became a key initiative of the administration of Wayne County Executive Robert A. Ficano.
Realizing that a project of such scope required strong input from the local governments near the airports, Wayne County began to engage the seven municipal governments in close proximity to the airports including two in neighboring Washtenaw County. Ten government entities along with the Wayne County Airport Authority signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding to explore the Aerotropolis concept in the summer of 2006. CEO Ficano then recruited the support of the nonprofit group Detroit Renaissance whose board is composed of the Detroit region’s leading private CEOs. In 2007 a 35-member public-private Aerotropolis Task Force was formed that included elected government officials, and private sector leaders.
The Aerotropolis Task Force along with Detroit Renaissance and Wayne County continue to lead the aerotropolis initiative along with Washtenaw County, the Wayne County Airport Authority, the cities of Romulus, Taylor, Ypsilanti, and Belleville, and the townships of Huron, Van Buren and Ypsilanti. As of May 2009, seven local governments and Washtenaw County have signed an intergovernmental agreement to create a development corporation to advance the project on a regional level. The partnership is also working with State leaders to create incentives to attract air-commerce-oriented businesses to the region.
On July 18, 2013 Tim Keyes, former director of economic development for the city of Romulus, MI was announced as CEO by the Detroit Region Aerotroplois Development Corp. In addition, the ADC in working with a rebranding management firm has re-crafted the image and changed the nameplate of "Aerotropolis" to "VantagePort".
In his new role, Keyes will help drive the development of the area around and corridor between Detroit Metropolitan Airport and the Willow Run Airport into an advanced hub of logistics, transportation, business and manufacturing. The Detroit Aerotroplois has been slow to gain traction in the past few years. Troubled by the economic crisis of 2008 and its carryover effects today and clouded by the bankruptcy of the City of Detroit, the hiring of Keyes and the rollout of VantagePort hopefully signifies a renewed energy and commitment to this regional development project.
On June 26, 2009, General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt announced plans for a new Advanced Manufacturing and Software Technology Center to be located in Van Buren Township in the heart of the Detroit Region Aerotropolis. Expected to bring up to 1,200 jobs to the region, GE will locate their facility in Visteon Village home to the Visteon Corporation, ironically in Chapter 11 at the time of the announcement. GE’s plans include leasing current office space as well as construction of a new $100 million research and development facility. This new 100,000-square-foot (9,300 m2) building will be home to GE engineers who will focus on advanced manufacturing for alternative energy as well as aircraft engine and gas turbine technologies. The software center will develop applications to support GE business systems and advanced technology groups. It will also be a training hub for GE IT personnel from around the world.
Appearing before the Detroit Economic Club, Immelt was joined by Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, Sen. Carl Levin, and Sen. Debbie Stabenow. Together they hailed the GE announcement as not only important in the development of a new technology future for the US but also important in Michigan's "comeback", a state hit the hardest by the downfall of the automotive manufacturing sector. As Granholm stated, "For a hundred years, we have been an automotive economy and we clearly need to diversify. This summer is going to be tough. But if we are shrewd and strategic and make key investments, we will emerge leaner, meaner, stronger and greener." Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano sees the arrival of GE as integral in the development of the Detroit Region Aerotropolis, likening it to the impact of Hewlett-Packard on Silicon Valley. As Immelt stated, "Companies like GE never travel alone," Immelt said. "We tend to bring suppliers and other people with us. At the end of the day, it could equal another couple of thousand jobs.".