DETROIT-There’s a new guru for economic development in the Motor City. He loves abandoned buildings, and will have plenty to work with in Detroit and Wayne County.

Mulugetta Birru has officially been named head of the newly-formed Wayne County Economic Development Corp. He starts the job Aug. 1.

Birru joins Wayne County from Pittsburgh, where for the past 12 years he was the chief of the Urban Redevelopment Authority for the Steel City. Among his highlights there, he converted an abandoned steel mill into 123 acres of lofts, stores and offices and took a blighted industrial island in the Allegheny River and helped develop it into market-rate housing.

“He’s willing to do the right thing and take chances to bring jobs into the area,” says his new boss, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano. “He has a global view of things, and he’s coming from a similar industrial area that goes up and down with the economy.”

He helped attract two big-name department stores to spur development in Downtown Pittsburgh’s ailing business district. But in May, the Lazarus-Macy’s store closed. The nearby Lord & Taylor store is scheduled to close next year.

“He really was, I think, a loyal soldier, but several of the projects turned out not to be good,” says Jim Roddey, the former Allegheny County executive.

But Ficano is not worried. “Home-run hitters strike out occasionally,” Ficano says. “When they do connect, they make a big difference.”

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