Returning to his hometown of Birmingham in 2006 to help run his family's oil and chemical business, Sterling Companies, in the the past five years Jason Eddleston has taken a personal interest in metro Detroit's comeback in the city of Hamtramck, where Sterling is headquartered.
A 1995 graduate of Cranbrook Schools, Eddleston attended the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania before working in the marketing field. In 2006, he returned to Birmingham to oversee operations of Sterling's Hamtramck storage and blending facility.
"Living in New York City, it was really tough to get involved with things, but being back, I feel I can make a difference," said Eddleston, who serves as vice president of operations for Sterling Oil. He also owns property in Hamtramck that he maintains as rental investments.
"With the time and money I spend, I can see projects from beginning to end, and see it have value to the citizens of the area," Eddleston said. "As the standard of living is raised, it will obviously benefit some of the businesses in which I'm involved, but also the whole area."
Being a good corporate neighbor can also come with challenges. In 2009, a fire at Sterling's Hamtramck facility led to a temporary evacuation of some 750 surrounding residents, prompting a class-action lawsuit the company settled with residents in 2010. The following year, Eddleston began his personal involvement in the city, partnering with the community.
Most recently, Eddleston's involvement with the Detroit Institute of Arts' Founders Junior Council, a group of young professionals working to encourage involvement to support arts and the museum, led him to become involved in saving the 30-year-old folk art installation known as "Hamtramck Disneyland."
Created by Dmytro Szylak, a Ukrainian immigrant who began work on the project in the 1980s, Hamtramck Disneyland occupies two lots in the 12000 block of Klinger Street. Built on top of two garages, the work includes a series of whimsical mechanisms that light up and play music.
"It's kind of like the Heidelberg Project, where people come from all over the world to see it," Eddleston said.
Working with Hatch Art, a non-profit art collective in Hamtramck, and joining the organization's "Save Hamtramck Disneyland Committee," Eddleston helped Hatch secure the funding to purchase the property and restore its condition.
"We reached out to other business owners, and we teamed up and gave two loans to the collective to purchase it," Eddleston said. "We were concerned with repairing it and keeping it in place." In May of 2016, Hatch purchased the property. It's now in the process of improving the structures and insuring its place in the community.
In 2011, Eddleston sought a position on Hamtramck's Recycling Commission, where he has been able to partner with the city to create recycling programs at two of the city's schools. The same year, he worked with the community to organize The Haven, a community garden in the city by working with the city and a Hamtramck church.
"We have about 20 soil boxes that we still maintain to this day," he said about the community garden. "We try to teach kids about healthy eating and living. All the food goes to the community.
"I believe in public-private partnerships. In these times, cities can't provide all the services they need, so I think it's up to the private businesses to step up for the betterment of the area."
Photo: Jean Lannen