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Ryan Mack's Open Letter to Detroit: Safer Exotic Bars = Faster Economic Recovery

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I received an email with a link to a YouTube.com video that displayed a hearing being held in Detroit, Michigan in front of the City Council. Various people of the community were expressing their concerns over the vast number of strip clubs that exist in the Detroit area. The others, many of them who were strippers themselves, were expressing their concerns over the impact of tighter regulations for strip club owners.

Both sides in this debate have legitimate arguments. Those who oppose tighter regulations state that this industry employs over 6,000 people in the city of Detroit. If these strict rules and regulations are put into place, many of these businesses would lose customers causing them to close. Closing clubs would cause hundreds of people employed by these businesses to lose their jobs. Many believe that with a devastated economy such as Detroit's, they will have difficulty finding employment. With a 17% unemployment rate in Detroit, a $300 million deficit, job cuts, job flight, and increasing foreclosures...they have a valid argument.

Those in favor of tighter regulations argue that there are 33 topless bars in the City of Detroit, but none in the neighboring county (Oakland County). This demonstrates a clear bias towards building this sort of establishment in one community, but not in others. The theory that these clubs are OK to have but "not in my backyard" definitely applies here. Another argument is that the women in the clubs of Detroit suffer from high rates of sexually transmitted diseases and physical/mental abuse. The clubs themselves in Detroit are in frequent violation of allowing illegal sexual activity and drug use within their establishments. These facts make it clear to many that more strict enforcement of rules and regulations are necessary. Banning the use of alcohol, banning any physical touching and setting a minimum distance of how close the dancers can be to club guests, mandatory use of opaque material to be placed on the breasts, eliminating VIP rooms, and stricter enforcement of current rules to curtail instances of illegal activities are a few of the rules that have been proposed. All of this in addition to the moral argument that was presented recently as one pastor stated to a club owner, "These are not your daughters but our daughters that you are exploiting and putting into harms way every night."

This is a battle that must be looked at from three different perspectives:

1. Safety

2. Economic Impact

3. Alternative Solutions for Motown

Safety

There is no doubt that these women are not working in safe conditions at many of these establishments. Unfortunately, there is more value placed on their ability to generate revenue than on their safety, which is exactly why we need new rules and regulations that are strictly enforced. Every industry, from people wearing seat belts to those operating global banks, must abide by rules and regulations that are established for the safety of all. If you don't wear a seat belt you can injure yourself as you operate your vehicle even thought it may not be as comfortable. The lack of regulation and oversight in the banking industry has us all aware of the repercussions if we do not have the proper regulation and oversight in place. To our demise, we sided with the bank lobbyists to eliminate increased regulation and oversight, allowed banks to reap the benefits of the increased profit, and the excessive risk crippled the entire global economy. Yes, creation of and more strict enforcement of rules might curtail profits for these clubs; but this time we must chose to place safety over revenue and provide rules and enforcement for the protection and safety of the women who chose to work in this industry.

Economic Impact

The larger discussion to be had is the emphasis on the economic impact that the strip clubs have on a city like Detroit, where its major industry (automotive) has been decimated. With 33 strip clubs in the city, what is the opportunity cost that we are losing because a strip club is operational on every other corner? When strip clubs are the dominant business in a neighborhood the economic impacts are almost instant including the following:

• Accompanying stores such as liquor stores, adult book stores, and adult video stores are built around the club.

• The property values of the surrounding area decrease causing residents and business owners to move.

• The immeasurable loss and missed opportunity cost of those potential new residents and business owners who decide not to move into that community because of the perceived lack of integrity within a community where the most prominent business is a strip club.

Strip clubs are rarely built by themselves. If you put a club on a block where there are no other prominent businesses (the lack of areas with prominent business establishments describes most of Detroit), the strip club becomes the highlight of the community. Almost immediately you will see other businesses that cater to those who solicit strip clubs being established around the club. Before long what you see is a block of stores most of which are dedicated to servicing adult entertainment. If you don't believe me, take a drive down 8 Mile if you are ever in my hometown. You will see my point precisely.

Secondly, as the blocks begin to transform the property values automatically begin to depreciate. Imagine property values dropping further in a city that has been economically ravaged like Detroit. To test this theory build a strip club in your community in Detroit and you will see the surrounding property values create amazing new lows; or, you can simply do a survey of current property values throughout the city and you will find obvious dips in property value in those neighborhoods with strip clubs compared to surrounding neighborhoods free of strip clubs. There is a legitimate reason for residents and business owners who are living in various communities to fight so hard to stop the building of these clubs in their communities. If they are not successful in winning their fight many choose to move.

Furthermore, businesses have no choice but to relocate due to the environment that is ultimately created around these clubs. Ask yourself; if you are a dentist, lawyer, doctor, accountant, veterinarian, or other small business owner...would you want to locate your practice in a community where the most prominent business is a strip club? Or would you go to Oakland County, where no such clubs exist, and you are assured that you will be able to service your clients in a more prolific, respectable environment? The answer is very simple. Small businesses are the drivers of most economic growth in every major city in the country. How can you grow and build economic stability in Detroit, when the small businesses or franchises do not feel comfortable establishing themselves by remaining in deteriorating neighborhoods?

Don't get me wrong, there are strip clubs in every other major city in the country but there is still growth. However, the difference is that these clubs were not the first on the scene, especially not the first to be established during the initial stages of a city's economic recovery. If you can establish a base of respected businesses initially, then it is possible to establish an exotic bar, as you see many here in New York, and not compromise the integrity of the neighborhood. For those who feel that one should not be concerned with perception of others, they must be reminded that in the world of business impressions matter and I prefer not to live in fantasy land. To own a company that is in the center of a complex that seems to cater to the adult industry will ultimately impact any firm's bottom line.

If we focus on 1) the decrease in property values, 2) residents and businesses we lose as a result of the building of strip clubs, and 3) the immeasurable number of businesses and residents who choose not to move into Detroit because of the heavy presence of these clubs; we have three logical reasons that the economic impact of these clubs could further cripple the city of Detroit for many years to come.

Solutions

When the American Civil Rights Initiative attacked and defeated affirmative action in Michigan it was a crushing blow to the state. It was an even harder blow for Detroit because their population is 82% African-American. I remember the hundreds of hours I spent sending out emails, calling to spread the message, and campaigning to save affirmative action for the state. What made me most upset with the movement pushed by Ward Connerly was the lack of alternative solutions provided to assist the people to more effectively deal with an environment still plagued with racism and discrimination without the assistance of affirmative action.

Let me provide you with a hypothetical example that demonstrates my argument:

There is a family trapped in a deep hole unable to escape with nothing but what is perceived to be candy to eat. Someone comes along, looks in the hole, and is disgusted with the fact that the family is eating nothing but what looks like candy. Knowing that candy is unhealthy and causes cavities they immediately begin to pass legislation to remove all candy from the hole. The family objects but the individual continues feeling confident that he is serving the greater good. The legislation is passed, the candy is removed successfully, and the family starves because there is nothing else to eat. The instigator of the legislation believed he was just in removing the candy and probably had good intentions; however, the humane thing to have done in this situation would have been to provide the families access to other foods to eat so they would not starve.

As reflected in this example and in the defeat of affirmative action, the instigators of the potentially harmful but "filled with good intentions" legislation all believed that they were acting on behalf of the greater good of society; however, they only were successful in removing a major lifeline for the community. Whether you agree or disagree, the community had become dependent upon these programs. Alternative solutions and education should have been provided with the elimination of affirmative action; also, it is inhumane to simply pass strict regulations on the exotic dancing industry without providing tangible solutions to those who could possibly lose employment.

Community Involvement

There are many programs in Detroit that specialize in education and training for minimal cost such as Focus Hope, Wayne County Community College District, Monroe Community College, Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit: Job Training and Placement Services, Highland Park Job Center, Employment Relations Bureau, and the list goes on and on. I found this list with a simple awareness of my hometown and a Google search; however, it would be beneficial to have a job & continuing education expo where the community brings many of these programs into one central location four times per year for those whose employment is in jeopardy or who have lost jobs (such as those in the exotic and automotive industries). Job fairs and career expos in Detroit are not a new commodity; however, the quantity and consistency of these types of events that assist residents to find employment need to be increased during harsh economic times.

The cost to the city would be minimal since the city's resources such as community colleges, community centers, churches, and other facilities could donate space (many such as community colleges would be happy to provide the space for free because that will increase their exposure in the community which leads to higher enrollment/revenue). The local radio stations could provide free public service announcements to advertise the upcoming career fairs (I am sure that they would be more than happy to support such a cause because they are supported by advertising dollars which are tied to the financial success of the city). If a strip club does shut down, the dancers and workers can visit a website setup by the city to provide resource tools that provides information on the upcoming fairs, organizations that participate, classifieds and other resources. Employers who are actively hiring can post their open positions on the website and establish an on-site location at these expos for on-site interviews and application processing. In this age of new technology, the internet makes outreach possible for a minimal cost.

Secondly, the people of the city need to step up to the plate. I personally, being from Detroit, would be willing to provide through my non-profit organization quarterly financial literacy training sessions for those who are unemployed or for anyone who would like to get a tighter grasp on their financial health in this volatile economy. This could be the prototype for all residents with a specific skill set or expertise in Detroit ... we all need to become teachers. If you have a skill or trade as well as an ability to teach that skill or trade (financial literacy, entrepreneurship, construction, accounting, legal, medical and health, etc.) we will need to organize within the community to host educational workshops. The city could assist by coordinating these activities through the development of an interactive website where instructors can register their courses on the site; and those who wish to enhance their skill sets could peruse the site for their area of interest. Possible cost of this site would be minimal compared to the long term impact this would have on the community preparing residents to find work in new fields and become empowered with vital education.

Why would people agree to train for free? There are a few simple answers to that question. One: During a recession one of the best ways to obtain exposure for your company is to provide free workshops. I have been doing it for years and have obtained many new clients and national exposure/recognition because of it. Two: The best way to sharpen your own knowledge base is to become a teacher. Three: In these hard times many are willing to pitch in but have no idea of where to begin...this provides an easy way for them assist the city to recover from this recession. Simply, one can organize workshops through their church, local community centers (i.e. Northwest Activity Center), create empowerment dinners for friends and family members in your home, or select businesses to host empowerment workshops (this would serve to increase business traffic to local community businesses).

One of the largest homogeneous landowners in the city of Detroit is the church. With land you have power and the ability to leverage. So what is needed is for all churches, large and small to get involved in the process of using their leverage for the greater good of the community. There are many churches across the country that are in the practice of starting businesses and making investments such as the purchase of a franchise. This not only increases income earning potential, but creates jobs for the membership of the church where they can work to run the franchise. You say that you are too small to start a franchise? Well this is where you do something that is done too infrequently within our community churches...we can partner with other churches.

The Lord said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them." (Genesis 11:6)

What would happen if churches learned how to combine forces and create economic development corporations? The largest employer in Queens, New York is Floyd Flake of Allen AME Church Cathedral and last I checked he has $30+ million Corporation with over $75 million in real estate assets. Other churches like Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, Harlem Congregations of Community Improvement, and the list goes on across the country of how churches have used their leverage for the greater good of the community. We can do the same in Detroit. If done right, an economic movement of the church can create thousands of jobs for the city of Detroit.

I have not forgotten about the businesses, high net worth individuals, and others who can also contribute. Right now, there is a big problem with credit and gentrification in Detroit. Banks cannot lend because they are over run with debt from thousands of properties that have been foreclosed in Detroit. Visit any Real Estate website and search for Detroit properties, you will be surprised at the amount listings for houses under $1,000. This is a huge problem for the banks as they still need to cover property taxes and maintenance fees of these homes. With the high quantity of these foreclosed homes on their books they are not able to lend funds as readily to those who are prepared to purchase property or start businesses. The high leverage within city banks is causing the city of Detroit's economic progress to experience a pause. Unfortunately, this presents a great opportunity for the millions of dollars of investments from across the country from those who can afford to invest in inexpensive properties and bear the cost for many years. These investments are creating a large exodus from residents that have resided in these areas for generations. One can call this the beginning of gentrification of Detroit neighborhoods. Wouldn't it be nice to not have to change the face of Detroit in order to keep its economic viability strong? This can happen and relatively easy to administer ... it just requires foresight, diligence and unity.

Any church (or group of churches working together) who owns substantial equity in their own property, business that generates a substantial profit, high net worth individual with a lot of liquidity, or group of residents who come together to form an investment club can participate the formation of partnerships purchase property. Having these groups get together to purchase real estate not only allows them to invest in their city and have a stake in its success, but it allows the banks to remove bad debt off their books which increases their ability to continue lending to residents of the city. Also, this will ultimately slow gentrification now that existing residents are the home owners instead of outside investors.

We can take this a step further; why not create short term jobs and training to city residents by hiring them as employees to do all the necessary rehabilitation on the homes purchased? Organizations like Focus Hope or Habitat for Humanity have a large network of people who are skilled in construction who could use some work in this slowing economy. For those who are interested in entering into the field of construction, the various non-profits that provide training in this field can provide the courses for city residents at minimal cost or perhaps even for free. If there is enough private investment (aggressive community participation is also important for this to work) we could provide thousands of jobs across the city and equip residents with training that will have a long term personal impact beyond the scope of these projects. If done right and we work together we can slow gentrification, deleverage banks, increase community investment (which could lead to increased community net worth in the future), provide job training, and create employment. All of this can occur without any involvement from city council or administration assistance.

In closing, there is no dollar value on the safety of the women in the exotic dancing industry and the concerns over the potential loss of employment in this industry highlights a larger need for Detroit to reestablish our ability to grow economically. These objectives can both be achieved as long we provide alternative solutions in preparation to the repercussions from increased regulation. This is possible if we begin to act as the Detroit of old. The Detroit where I grew up didn't know how to say quit, looked out for one another, understood that none us is as strong as all of us, was proud of where you came from, and wasn't afraid of hard work. It is time to relive those days again; we all need to be ashamed when anybody in our town feels as if they can't make it unless they either are an exotic dancer, prostitute, or sell drugs. When did we lose our edge? When did settling for less than mediocrity become acceptable? I don't live in Detroit currently, but my heart still does. As a native Detroiter I pledge to do my part, but we all need to play a role in this recovery...not just the Government. Bottom line: inaction is never tolerated, but aggressive action is always celebrated. Detroiters...let's unite and return Motown to glory!