Editor’s Note: Prior to and during the upcoming Detroit Regional Chamber’s Detroit Policy Conference on Feb. 24, Detroit Unspun/TheHUB will bring you stories that showcase the transformation of our city’s neighborhoods.
The question of inclusion has hovered over but not hampered the renewed interest and energy surrounding Detroit and the investment therein. A new mayoral administration, the emergence from bankruptcy and a sudden burst of accelerated activity in select areas has proven to be great from an image perspective as those who once turned their backs on Detroit are now forward-facing with an extended hand.
Yet, the conversation quietly asks, where are those who reflect a still predominantly African-American city in the equation of rebirth, and if and how those businesses that stayed – or survived – can be incorporated into the redefinition of Detroit?
Many African-American businesses have not only helped sustain Detroit during its most difficult times, they also have emerged through the fire. While they may be overlooked in the public attention generously given to new business ventures, their continued commitment and presence are undeniable.
From Tip-Top Shoe Repair, Ashley’s Florists and Hot Sam’s downtown to the ever-changing and growing Livernois Avenue of Fashion to The Social Club in Midtown and everywhere in-between, there are countless minority businesses throughout the city. To increase awareness, the City of Detroit recently created a directory of those companies.
That’s a welcome step.
What’s needed next is to include more of those firms and their leaders in making the decisions that will create the opportunities that shape and define the business landscape and offer new and growth opportunities.
TIME TO REV UP
That may require a candid, and possibly painful, discussion about what’s required to start a business and the factors needed to sustain and grow that business.
It takes more than an idea or talent. Many entrepreneurs, particularly minority entrepreneurs, either lack or fail to seek the resources they need to take the leap and safely land on solid entrepreneurial ground. While the factors vary by industry, there are constants that impact the likelihood of success. Having the proper agreements in place for occupancy, a strategy for ownership, inventory, a proper staff who are trained and delivering quality customer service, and even regular business hours, are all factors that can weigh down a new or small business.
Things such as credit-worthiness, cash and collateral also weigh heavily on the likelihood of a business or business idea receiving grants or financial awards and counsel to help them along the way.
If an entrepreneur is starting from behind, it makes it all the more difficult to catch up and to fairly compete.
Detroit has both the room and a reason to change the conversation and commitment to the development and growth of minority business. While certain government guidelines look good and read well, the reality is that you can’t legislate or regulate fairness, and equality is truly reduced to being relative.
Those who are at the table making decisions need to reach out and invite those who look and think differently to participate. That will ensure objective and varied representation at all levels as well as shape outreach and engagement, and ultimately inclusion. Asking the same voices for their views will only result in the same outcomes.
However, the commitment must be twofold. Those who want to participate must do their homework and be prepared to contribute strategically to a greater Detroit. That will reduce the likelihood of failure, and lessen the chance they will be excluded for otherwise preventable reasons.
Detroit has the tools and the opportunity to redefine inclusion and redevelopment. It can create a more level landscape where preparation can meet opportunity to collectively, inclusively and positively impact our communities.
Progress is not defined as using open arms to welcome some, only to use those same arms to push others away.
Editor’s Note: Karen Dumas is host of “The Pulse,” heard M-F from 4-7PM (EST) on 910AM. The former Chief of Communications for the City of Detroit is also owner of the PR firm, Images & Ideas, Inc.