Like many in Detroit, I was thrilled to see Whole Foods recently open in Midtown. It's a shining example of the market potential for any number of service-providing businesses that can create jobs in Detroit and for Detroiters. Their commitment to carry several local products is certainly a boost to some area entrepreneurs working in the fast-growing food space, and the nearly 70 city residents hired (out of 97) -with more on the way - is not an insignificant boost for Detroiters themselves.
Lately there have been many announcements of good news in Downtown and Midtown, which - wearing my hat at New Economy Initiative (NEI) - I understand has benefits for all Detroiters and the region as a whole. While all that work is catalytic for Downtown and Midtown, I thought it was a great moment to either remind you, or let know for the first time, about the work some of the New Economy Initiative's grantees are doing for small businesses and entrepreneurs in other areas of the city. There's much more to be done of course, but we continue to commit ourselves to helping service organizations throughout the city provide access for as many Detroiters as possible and the growing entrepreneurial activity that is helping diversify our economy. Here are just a few examples:
•TechTown - SWOT City
With the help of NEI, TechTown -Detroit's largest business incubator and accelerator- has now set up SWOT teams for the Brightmoor and East Jefferson neighborhoods, after successes in Midtown and New Center. In Brightmoor that means they're actually on the ground with an office, helping businesses like Motor City Java House and vintage clothing boutique Ray-Ann's Wardrobe, stabilize and grow by connecting them to resources and working through day-to-day operational challenges. The goal? Self-sufficiency, jobs for neighborhood residents, and neighborhood revitalization around sustainable businesses.
•Southwest Housing Solutions - Earn and Learn & ProsperUs
Southwest Housing Solutions' Earn and Learn program gives at-risk youth (particularly minority males age 18-24), and formerly incarcerated and chronically unemployed individuals training, education, subsidized employment experience, job placement and more to help them maintain secure and stable employment. Since 2011, 84 employers have been involved in the program with 360 participants placed into employment.
ProsperUs, another program of Southwest Housing Solutions, serves immigrants and persons of color through micro-enterprise and entrepreneurial training. Focus areas include Cody-Rouge on the northwest side of the city, Detroit's North End neighborhood, and Southwest Detroit. Shena Penn, owner of Pure Decontamination (a company specializing in cleaning crime, accident, unattended death, and filth scenes) and a recent graduate of a ProsperUs class told us..."coming from a journalism background I had no experience starting a business, and needed someone to walk to me through process. The most valuable part of the program was being able to sit down with someone who knows how business works to help write a business plan that works."
The Detroit Development Fund provides much-needed growth capital for Detroit's small businesses, most of them located in the neighborhoods, and all of them unable to receive all the capital they need from traditional financing sources. Of their loans, 72% have gone to minority owned businesses and 52% have gone to women owned businesses. Without them the small business landscape - including businesses like Detroit Farm & Garden, VMX International environmental consultants, and Hot Sam's men's wear - would not be nearly as rich as it is today.
ACCESS provides training and technical assistance to help underserved immigrant and non-English speaking populations develop and grow businesses. The main hubs are in Detroit's Warrendale neighborhood, Dearborn, and Hamtramck.
There's good work happening throughout the neighborhoods by service organizations like the ones mentioned above and foundations alike; including NEI, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, Kresge, Kellogg, Skillman, and more. There's much more to be done, but hopefully this will give you a small taste of the activity already happening on the ground.
David Egner is the Executive Director of the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan (NEI). NEI is a special program of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, and is working to transform the region's economy by building a network of support for entrepreneurs.
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