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Make Detroit the ‘salsa city’

From: The Detroit News

By: Sandy Baruah 

December 20, 2013

When you think of Detroit, you think cars. You think Motown. You think, salsa?

Well, you should. Thirty-one percent of the nation’s fresh salsa is made by Ferndale’s Garden Fresh Gourmet — a little-known fact that highlights the transformative power of small businesses and speaks to the uniquely entrepreneurial spirit in the Detroit region.

That spirit was on full display this week as Garden Fresh Gourmet Vice Chairman Dave Zilko and food entrepreneurs from Detroit’s emerging food economy discussed opportunity, investment and small business growth at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Annual Meeting and Holiday Reception at Eastern Market. The broader conversation about the climate for small business growth will be one of the most important underlying narratives as Detroit emerges from bankruptcy in 2014.

Post-bankruptcy Detroit must be a city where entrepreneurs can access capital and thrive free of obstacles and over-regulation. Like cities across the nation, Detroit relies on small businesses as a determining factor of its economic strength. Cities with successful small businesses grow robustly, cities that don’t, struggle. Small businesses take root in neighborhoods bringing opportunity, investment and jobs to their communities. Successful ones, like Garden Fresh, grow into their home city’s largest employers. While large corporations often dominate the headlines, it is small businesses that drive growth, one job at a time.

There are more than 5,500 small businesses in the city of Detroit. Five percent of those have revenues exceeding $1 million, with nearly 50 percent of them employing between five and 10 employees. The more these small businesses grow, the more investment and jobs are created in the surrounding neighborhood — it’s a virtuous cycle.

As head of the Small Business Administration (SBA) under President George W. Bush, I saw firsthand the economic impact of start-up businesses. I saw the benefits of getting small business growth right, and the missed opportunities as a result of getting it wrong. Detroit’s unique entrepreneurial spirit and legacy of innovative small businesses peaked my interest in working with the Detroit region’s business community. It’s what brought Warren Buffett and Goldman Sachs to town with their 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative. It’s why the chamber is ramping up its efforts to support small businesses.

With nearly 90 percent of its membership comprised of small businesses with 50 employees or fewer, the Chamber is working to remove obstacles to growth, such as cumbersome regulations, and increasing access to capital. Our organization is collaborating with impactful organizations such as the SBA and Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, as well as efforts such as the 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative to ensure small business can access the resources needed to achieve sustainable growth. This will remain one of the chamber’s highest priorities in 2014, as we work with legislators to promote policy that supports small business growth.

Sustainable economic growth requires an ecosystem where entrepreneurs can thrive and do what they do best. Small businesses have the unique ability to drive the innovation that can make a Motor City, a Salsa City.