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People of Detroit Are Why City’s Small Businesses Are Thriving

Confidence in Detroit’s overall economic rebound remains high, driven by a boom in small business and retail activity. Forty-one percent of Detroit entrepreneurs in 2017 said they were “very likely” to recommend opening a business in the city, according to The Kresge Foundation’s Detroit Reinvestment Index that measured perceptions of the city by national business leaders, metro area entrepreneurs and consumers. Ninety-six percent of consumers said it is important to have a thriving retail district in or near your neighborhood.

Detroit is an example of how the right ecosystem can accelerate success. Data shows businesses in neighborhoods are succeeding and can be just as successful as businesses located downtown. However, small businesses face unique challenges all their own including finding flexible and affordable space and talent to run the day-to-day operations.

“The power of collaboration is real,” said Wendy Jackson, Detroit managing director for The Kresge Foundation.

Jackson joined Pamela Lewis, director of the New Economy Initiative, JPMorgan Chase’s Tosha Tabron, and Carla Walker-Miller, president and CEO of Walker-Miller Energy Services, in a panel on Thursday at the Conference. The session, “Small Business Leading Detroit’s Big Comeback,” was hosted by JPMorgan Chase & Co. and moderated by September Hargrove, vice president for Global Philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Walker-Miller, whose business evolved from large power equipment and experienced major growth in 2014, said her company’s goal is to increase the number of Detroiters it employs from 58 percent today to 70 percent by 2020.

“If you want to invest in Detroit, I ask the corporate community to invest in the people of Detroit,” Walker-Miller said. “You can be a totally badass company totally sourced from Detroit.”

Part of the struggle for small companies is funding. That’s where foundations and the corporate banking community can help. Since 2014, NEIdeas has granted $1.9 million in cash awards to 118 existing businesses in Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park.

“If you have an idea and a will, here’s access to support to help you,” Lewis said.

 Key Takeaways:

  • Consumers in the lowest income quintile saw the largest spending increase (3.3 percent) in Detroit, according to the JPMorgan Chase Institute’s Local Consumer Index that measured customer spending in 14 metro areas from January 2014 to January 2018.
  • Consumer spending growth increased the most at businesses located in the same neighborhood as their residences. Millennials have driven growth more than any other age group in Detroit.
  • Training is important, but small businesses need support when they don’t have the capital.
  • The perception of what an entrepreneur looks like needs to change. The fastest growing group of entrepreneurs is black women.