$50 Million Minority-Owned Cannabis Facility Breaks Ground in Detroit

Former NBA All-Star Chris Webber broke ground on a $50 million cannabis operations and training center in Detroit’s trendy Corktown neighborhood.

Players Only, a Black-owned business that Webber co-founded with entrepreneur Lavetta Willis, will focus on cannabis cultivation and retail, brand partnerships and content development.

Cookies U, part of California-based Cookies’ social impact program, will provide training and job placement services that focus on minorities and underrepresented communities, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The Detroit marijuana facility marks the first major announcement from Webber and Willis since February, when they and JW Asset Management founder Jason Wild launched a $100 million private equity cannabis fund to invest in underrepresented cannabis entrepreneurs.

The 180,000-square-foot facility will feature 60,000 square feet of cultivation space, an 8,000-square-foot dispensary and a private cannabis consumption lounge.

Webber announced an exclusive product distribution partnership with Michigan-based Gage Growth, which is in the process of being acquired by New York-based TerrAscend. Wild is TerrAscend’s executive chair.

“We will create, foster and provide a cannabis ecosystem that celebrates diversity, creates jobs, and benefits this community – focusing intensely on those who are being left behind,” Webber, a Detroit native, said in a news release.

“As social equity programs struggle in many states, we are here to support legacy operators who created the foundation for this industry so that they are included in future iterations of it while we wait on the politics to catch up.”

View original article.

Panel of Bank Executives Shared How Black- and Diverse-Owned Small Businesses Can Access Funding

Key Takeaways

  • Start building a relationship with financial institutions and lenders before you need capital. According to Jones, “waiting until you need capital to build that relationship is too late.”  
  • Find a financial institution with a good track record of working with good borrowers and businesses, who will take time getting to know your small business and provide advice on what is best for your business—not their company. 
  • Businesses of all sizes sought out capital during the pandemic, but Black and Latinx businesses struggled to gain access. This led to non-traditional lending sources stepping up to assist those businesses. 
  • Small business owners should talk to lenders and let them know what they need. According to Dunn, “As small business owners, you are the truth in this story. It’s about making sure you have the resources that you need.” 

On Wednesday, Oct. 20, the Detroit Regional Chamber and Pure Michigan Business Connect partnered to host the first webinar in the Chamber’s 2021-2022 Black- and Diverse-Owned Business Series – How to Access Small Business Funding.   

The webinar brought together a panel of bank executives from the Detroit region to discuss traditional and non-traditional funding opportunities and resources that small businesses can take advantage of to expand. The panel was moderated by Paul Jones, business support director at Invest Detroit, and comprised: 

  • Aileen Cohen, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer, Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) 
  • James Dunn, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, First Independence Bank 
  • Derron Sanders, Strategic Advisor, Grow Michigan Fund II; Chief Executive Officer, SG Companies 
  • Shannon Smith, Vice President, Siebert Williams Shank Capital Management 

Cohen participated in the panel from the perspective of the state of Michigan, which helps all businesses; Dunn, small, startup businesses; Sanders, minority businesses; and Smith, Black and Latinx businesses.  

When to Start Building a Relationship with Lenders

Dunn shared that small business owners should start building a relationship with financial institutions before seeking capital. While a pre-existing relationship does not guarantee loan approval, it helps lenders get to know the business they are working with and provides referrals to other resources that could be useful for growth. 

“And then also, it gives the banker an opportunity to know who you are, what your business plans are, and how you’re preparing for them, what your business plans look like, and sometimes, they can direct you to into what you need to do to put your business on the ground and get it going,” Dunn said. 

Dunn also shared that small business owners should consider working with smaller banks like First Independence Bank before going to larger banks for capital. 

“One of the benefits of working with a smaller banking institution is that they’re a little more focused on smaller loan relationships, and it’s kind of their core business. They’re going to pay more attention,” Dunn said.  

According to the Small Business Administration, 71% of small business applications submitted to smaller banks were approved, whereas the approval rate at larger banks was 58%.  

Wraparound Services for Small Businesses

Sanders discussed different services that small business owners should proactively look for from their bank or lending relationships. The main thing he suggests is looking for advice. 

“When you look at Grow Michigan II, one of the taglines we promote is bridging the economic gap for all with capital and advice. The thing I like to highlight is the ‘all’ and the ‘advice,’” Sanders said. “Capital is one factor, but what they [small business owners] lack sometimes is advice, and sometimes that’s more important than the capital,” Sanders said. 

Sanders believes banks, capital sources, and non-traditional lending sources like Grow Michigan II should build a relationship with borrowers because it gives them insight into the businesses they are looking to fund, including why they started their business, how they are running their business, and what their short-term and long-term goals are. Having this knowledge helps them tailor advice to best help businesses grow. 

According to Dunn, financial institutions that do not provide advice and will lend based on a credit score could be a sign of predatory lending. Predatory lending is when a lender offers a loan with few barriers except for a high interest rate, making it easy money.  

“People will create a lending model based on a FICO score and earnings, and they’ll throw money at you. It’s not a high decision type of lending. What’s missing sometimes with that type of lending is there’s no consulting role. They’re not helping you as a businessperson to guide you into those questions you should be asking,” Dunn said. “You need a consulting role to help small businesses succeed.”   

In addition to finding a lender that provides advice, Sanders also stressed that borrowers should not start a relationship with lenders with a “beggar mentality.”  

“Know that we are going in with a great business plan, [and] that they are looking for us as much as we are looking for them,” Sanders said. “You want to make sure you work with an institution that has developed a track record. You want to do your research and know that you have options. There’s a lot of liquidity out there, and banks, financial institutions, and mezzanine debt funds like ours are looking for good borrowers,” Sanders said. 

The New Lending Environment

Smith shared what financial lending looks like today, amid COVID-19 and new FinTech developments, compared to what it looked like pre-COVID-19.  

“A lot of innovation happened,” Smith said, “Specifically, I think we saw a unique time where no matter the company, who ran the company, the revenue size—everyone was looking for capital to survive the shutdown.”  

Even though almost every business felt the pinch of the pandemic, Smith said that minority-owned businesses faced a unique but unsurprising barrier—one that was not caused by the pandemic but was highlighted by it. They faced the challenge of accessing capital, especially regarding receiving Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding. 

“We saw the emergence of what I’ve been labeling as the ‘robot banker.’ The silver-lining will show what automation could do to benefit minority-owned businesses by removing some human involvement that could perhaps explain some of the disparities we’re seeing in the businesses of the same types, similar revenues, but different colored founders,” Smith said. 

Another thing that came out of the pandemic was that foundations switched their funding criteria and made exceptions to get businesses through the pandemic outside of their objectives and pillars. 

“Before, during, and after COVID, we started to see intentional funds like ours, a non-traditional lender, the Clear Michigan Impact Fund, that said, ‘You know what, we believe the U.S., below-the-middle market businesses, especially Black- and Latinx-owned businesses, represent a large, attractive lending opportunity,’ so we stepped in,” Smith said. “Especially, if you look at the gap in GDP in a region like Michigan, where we could’ve been $29 billion stronger in the 2014 study—a 13% increase in GDP—if the racial gap in income had been closed.”  

Advocacy for Small Businesses

Cohen shared that there is ample funding coming into the state of Michigan at the local, state, and federal levels. However, without the assistance of technical service providers and lenders who share what is needed from businesses, organizations like MEDC will not know how to structure these funds to make the most significant impact.  

“We want to hear from the ground level what’s needed out there. That’s where the activity comes in. We recognize as a state that we are not on the ground. We’re one step removed from what the market conditions are right now, what borrowers and lenders actually want,” Cohen said. “We have been constantly reaching out to each and every one of those groups to figure out what is needed and how.” 

Ultimately, Cohen shared that the best advocacy comes from making sure small business owners stay in touch with local service providers. 

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to utilize this funding to make an impact…to make sure we are going to use this money in the most impactful way we can,” Cohen said.  

Overcoming Barriers to Access Capital: Action Items

According to Dunn, the first thing small business owners should prepare before asking for financial assistance is a strong business plan. 

“When the lender is looking at ‘Can I support this business?’, but most importantly ‘How carefully considered is the business, how well-planned out, what’s the likelihood of success?’, I would suggest that with a very solid business plan, the likelihood that your business will be successful, it goes up tremendously as compared with ‘I have an idea. I’m just going to launch this,’” Dunn said. 

The business plan can include various details, such as the past, present, and future of a business, what it has made to date, what the projections are, and assumptions to those projections. According to Smith, the latter is one of the most essential details. He believes being able to walk lenders and investors through the assumptions is key. It will show them that you are being considerate about making sure you’re in a place to grow your business and have people around you who can help you build your business. 

Another important thing to consider when seeking capital is knowing what you are asking for and why. 

“Are you able to explain how you will spend every single penny? Even if those assumptions aren’t all the way true, it just shows that you have an understanding of how you’re going to invest capital into your business to grow to your next step,” Smith said. 

Sanders also recommends business owners remember to share their personal stories and personal credit when developing a relationship with lenders and not only to highlight their business accomplishments.  

“Your personal story, your personal credit, all the things—when you’re a small business, until you get to a certain level of scale, we are looking at you as an individual, separate and distinct to some extent from the business,” Sanders said. “We are looking at who the jockey is riding the horse, with the horse being the business.”  

This step includes making sure you are creditworthy by keeping a score in the high 700s or low 800s. It also means making sure when someone Googles you or your business that nothing derogatory comes up. 

“Let’s not forget how important the personal aspect of you tied to the business is, as well,” Sanders said. 

According to Cohen, one of the last things small business owners can do to find capital is take advantage of existing resources available with organizations like the Small Business Development Center (SBDC). They will be able to provide insight into grant programs and resources across the state of Michigan. 

Overcoming Systemic Challenges for Minority-Owned Businesses

“We are seeing this shift in sentiment from corporate America and just institutions around the importance of racial equity, especially as it relates to the credit market,” Smith said.  

Organizations like the Clear Michigan Fund, Grow Michigan Fund II, First Independence Bank, Invest Detroit, and MEDC provide opportunities for Black- and diverse-owned businesses to overcome institutional barriers to accessing capital. 

At the Clear Michigan Fund, Smith shared they focus on the “network effect,” which is when a small Black or Latinx business comes to them with a plan on how they want to grow, and the Fund identifies companies they are trying to build a bridge to and helps them connect.

“A lot of large corporates are also making these intentional efforts to diversify their supply chains. Their procurement departments are really taking it serious. There’s this relationship that’s starting to build on both sides for lenders, for companies, as well as those large corporates looking to give opportunities to more minority-owned businesses,” Smith said. “And it’s not a charitable act. It’s an act of just finding these businesses and giving them the contracts. These businesses have been doing the work, continue to do the work, and they just need the capital and that bridge to be built to then show that they can do the work.” 

Grow Michigan II and First Independent Bank are also working to provide capital to more minority-owned businesses through a partnership. To close the equity gap, Sanders shared how Grow Michigan II put forth $40-$50 million, with at least 50% being targeted to minority-owned businesses. 

Jones also shared how Invest Detroit provides capital to businesses located in Highland Park, Hamtramck, and Detroit, or cities with a large minority population. In addition, Cohen shared there is a significant focus on providing federal funds to socio- and economically disadvantaged businesses in Michigan.   

“We’re in a really unprecedented time where we have institutions, corporates, and a lot of players that are starting to shift their focus and understand the value of closing this equity gap,” Smith said. “As a minority-owned business across the country, especially in this region, it’s really a great time to tap into those resources, find those capital sources, but also come ready with your plan to be funded, because there’s a lot of investors and a lot of funds that are looking to invest in some great businesses.” 

View the How to Access Small Business Funding webinar here.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is the sponsor of the event series. 

Oct. 22 | This Week In Government: Michigan’s Unemployment Rate Decreased Slightly In September; Detroit Dump Site Limits The Focus During Hearing On Trash Dumping Bill

Each week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Government Relations team, in partnership with Gongwer, will provide members with a collection of timely updates from both local and state governments. Stay in the know on the latest legislation, policy priorities, and more.

  1. Michigan’s Unemployment Rate Decreased Slightly In September
  2. Detroit Dump Site Limits The Focus During Hearing On Trash Dumping Bill
  3. Timeline Still Unclear On Moving $2.5B Water Infrastructure Supplemental
  4. A Redistricting Unknown: The Court Of Appeals
  5. EPA Plans To Regulate PFAS; Moving To Set Drinking Water Limits

Michigan’s Unemployment Rate Decreased Slightly In September

Michigan’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate declined by 0.1 percentage point, to 4.6 percent, in September, date from the Department of Technology, Management and Budget data released Wednesday showed.

Statewide employment grew by 16,000, while the number of unemployed inched down by 4,000. Michigan’s labor force increased by 12,000 over the month.

“Michigan’s labor market was stable in September,” Wayne Rourke, associate director of the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives, said in a statement. “The unemployment rate and payroll job counts both showed minimal change over the month.”

The state’s total employment level inched up by 0.4 percentage point over the month, similar to the national rate of growth, while it – and the country at large – saw a significant total unemployment decline since September 2020 as individuals returned from pandemic-related layoffs.

Michigan’s September 2021 unemployment rate remained above pre-pandemic levels, however, with total unemployment in the state being 36,000 – 19.4 percent higher than in February 2020. The September 2021 jobless rate of 4.6 percent was above the pre-pandemic rate of 3.7 percent.

DTMB’s data also showed that the Detroit-Warren-Dearborn Metropolitan Statistical Area’s seasonally adjusted September jobless rate decreased by 0.2 percentage point to 3.9 percent. The Detroit region employment level increased by 12,000, while unemployment receded by 4,000, resulting in a workforce gain of 8,000 since August. Joblessness in the Detroit metro area has declined significantly since last September.

As for nonfarm jobs, the monthly survey of employers indicated that total payroll employment rose slightly by 8,000 in September – up 0.2 percent – resulting in a September job level of about 4.2 million. The state’s leisure and hospitality sector had the largest monthly job gain, and though this industry historically sees some decline in September, the drop in September 2021 was smaller than usual.

September was the fifth month in a row to exhibit an over-the-month payroll employment increase, although job gains in the last two months have been modest. Statewide payroll employment moved up by 99,000, or 2.4 percent, over the year. Michigan nonfarm jobs were 272,000, or 6.1 percent, below the February 2020 pre-pandemic level.

The statewide education and health services sector, however, exhibited the largest over-the-month job decline – down by 6,000, or 0.9 percent. Manufacturing jobs, though, edged up slightly for the second consecutive month.

Michigan’s professional and business services sector exhibited the largest over-the-year numeric job growth, adding 30,000 positions since the prior September.

Detroit Dump Site Limits The Focus During Hearing On Trash Dumping Bill

Dumping limitations at a municipal trash site in Detroit and the inaccessibility of a second site within the city are partly to blame for the city’s trash and illegal dumping problem, which Rep. Cynthia Johnson (D-Detroit) told the House Judiciary Committee is worsening by the day.

Johnson said her HB 4048, reintroduced from last session, would provide stiffer criminal penalties and civil fines for unlawful dumping by amending the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act.

Johnson said her bill has support from city officials and was inspired by the city’s growing trash problem. She said trash is piling up on the sides or roadways and highways, in neighborhoods and sometimes in residents’ front or back yards, and is attracting rats. The representative said Tuesday that she’s even seen dead rats outside of her own home, one of which she said she ran over recently while driving.

She added that it appears a large portion of the trash problem isn’t being generated by city residents but rather companies like construction contractors and in some cases non-residents.

Johnson legislative director Chris Wardell said that he has also seen trash piling up in and around Kalamazoo.

Rep. Steve Johnson (R-Wayland), a member of the committee, said he’s seen trash dumped along roadways and nature trails on which he runs and hikes. While he acknowledged the problem and the need to stop it, Johnson wondered how many individuals were actually caught dumping. He said the bill would not help if violators were not being prosecuted.

Johnson said she did not have figures on prosecutions in front of her but did say those who have attempted to clean illegal dump sites, whether city employees or good Samaritans, have taken to digging through trash bags to find addressed envelopes that are then turned over to law enforcement.

The city has also begun installing cameras at frequently flagged illegal dump sites in an attempt to catch violators in the act.

When Johnson asked whether the dumping was a product of laziness by individuals and companies or a problem with waste management within the city, Johnson said it was a bit of both. She said Detroit has two dump sites for residents, one of which is free and one managed by a third-party contractor. The free site indicates that it can take up to 1,000 pounds of acceptable waste from any city resident per day, but Johnson said the actual amount it can take was far less. The second site charges a fee, which she said discourages its use.

Jon Cool, president of the Michigan Railroads Association, testifying in support of the bill Tuesday, said the trash problem harms rail operations, and debris blocking rail yard entry points could pose problems if medical or law enforcement first responders need access during an emergency.

Johnson said a planned substitute would allow rail companies – which are experiencing the brunt of illegal dumping across the state, rail officials said – to seek reimbursement for the cost of cleanup from the offenders. Rail company officials Tuesday said it would not be safe for violators to clean areas like electrified tracks that service rail cars in both directions.

Johnson suggested allowing any company, not just railroads, to be reimbursed for costs incurred during clean-up, which Ms. Johnson said she was willing to entertain.

OTHER BUSINESS: The committee reported a package of bills aimed at protecting residents against sexual abuse from physicians by increasing penalties and ensuring the protection of medical records referencing any supposed treatment involving vaginal or anal penetration. The package, inspired by the fallout from the Larry Nassar abuse scandal, includes HB 4853, HB 4855, HB 4857and HB 4858, each of which was the subject of previous testimony.

The committee also reported HB 5368, after adopting a substitute, that would make birth dates publicly accessible information in court proceedings. Rep. Graham Filler (R-DeWitt), committee chair and the bill sponsor, said the substitute makes two minor but important language changes – swapping the word “defendant” with “individual” so that only a defendant’s name and date of birth is prohibited from redaction and striking the phrase, “all court documents must be open to the public” from the bill.

Timeline Still Unclear On Moving $2.5B Water Infrastructure Supplemental

Initial testimony on a multibillion-dollar water infrastructure supplemental appropriations package was unanimously positive Wednesday but the timeline for movement and what an amended formula for a lead line replacement component might look like were not immediately clear.

The $2.5 billion supplemental, SB 565, before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, provides for extensive investments in water infrastructure including lead line replacements and dam repairs.

There has been no opposition to the proposal thus far, with supporters saying using the once in a generation infusion of federal funding, via the federal coronavirus relief package, would be a significant long-term investment in the state’s infrastructure needs.

Of the $2.5 billion the bill contains, $2.21 billion is federal relief funds and $290 million is state restricted funds. That funds would also break down to $2.485 billion for the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy and $15 million for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

“I believe SB 565 is a huge step in ensuring that our state water infrastructure undergoes transformational improvements that will benefit every Michigander for generations to come,” Sen. Jon Bumstead (R-Newaygo), the bill’s sponsor, told the committee.

Included in the bill is $650 million for a dam risk reduction revolving loan fund, $600 million for lead line replacements, $400 million for the state’s drinking water program, $235 million for clean water infrastructure and $200 million for wastewater-clean water infrastructure grants.

Another $100 million would go toward the PFAS remediation program, with $100 million allocated for stormwater, asset management and wastewater program grants.

Bumstead said a substitute is being crafted to make changes to the proposed lead line replacement formula.

Under the original bill, EGLE would be able to approve grants for costs related to service line replacement to water suppliers that meet the state’s lead and copper rule standards. Applicants would be required to put up a 50 percent match. A total of 25 percent of the annual grants would be required to be spent in rural communities with a population of less than 10,000 people.

What the formula for the lead line replacements funding might look like is still being discussed, Sen. Jim Stamas (R-Midland), the committee chair, told reporters after the hearing.

“We want to find the right balance,” Stamas said. “That’s going to come with our ability to work with our stakeholders.”

When asked about the timeline for getting the money out the door, he said the issue was, again, finding the right balance as well as identifying the right targeted investments.

“I do feel that there is a pressure to move something forward, but we want to make sure that we get this right,” Stamas said, and that involves working with stakeholders and the governor’s administration.

He emphasized the need to not move too quickly and make sure the state gets it right when it comes to a generational opportunity for investment.

Beyond the match in the original language for the lead line replacements, there are other stipulations for some of the pots of money within the bill.

For the $200 million in wastewater-clean water infrastructure grants, at least $40 million would be for communities of 5,000 or fewer people.

The $100 million in PFAS mitigation grants would have to be awarded by EGLE for remediation projects with no identified responsible party and would be meant to address drinking water, groundwater or surface water contamination.

Another $85 million in the bill would be for a healthy hydration program to provide grants to schools to install filtered drinking water stations. Applicants would have to provide a 30 percent match and the funds would be contingent on the passage of SB 184 and SB 185.

Members of the committee were all on board with the bill and the need for major investments, although multiple members suggested that further discussions may be needed on provisions such as the local matches, especially for the lead line funding.

A Redistricting Unknown: The Court Of Appeals

Proposal 2 of 2018 left the Legislature and governor still in charge of one aspect of redistricting: the reapportionment of the four state Court of Appeals districts.

However, it has been quiet in the House and Senate on starting work on a bill to redraw the lines.

The 25 judges of the Court of Appeals are elected from four different districts.

Under the 2011 map, the first district has judges from Branch, Hillsdale, Kalamazoo, Lenawee, Monroe, St. Joseph, and Wayne. The second district has judges from Genesee, Oakland and Macomb counties. The third district has judges from Allegan, Barry, Berrien, Calhoun, Cass, Eaton, Ionia, Jackson, Kent, Mason, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oceana, Ottawa, Van Buren, and Washtenaw. All other counties are in the fourth district.

Of particular interest in 2022 is that Judge David Sawyer of East Grand Rapids in the third district cannot seek reelection because of the age limit on judicial candidates. That creates a rare open seat on the court.

Another aspect to watch is that two of the judges up for reelection in 2022 (Judge Michael Gadola of Lansing and Judge Brock Swartzle of Okemos) are from a smaller county – Ingham – which could conceivably be moved away from the large number of northern, smaller counties into something closer and then potentially shake up who is running where.

House Republican spokesperson Gideon D’Assandro, asked when the Legislature would begin work on redistricting, said with the census data having come in later, the House is “still collecting input on the population shifts and whether changes are needed.”

He said the court redistricting is not on the same strict timeline as the U.S. House and Legislature, which now is constitutionally mandated under Proposal 2.

Messages left with the Senate Republican Caucus were not returned.

EPA Plans To Regulate PFAS; Moving To Set Drinking Water Limits

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced they are moving to set enforceable drinking water limits on PFAS, chemicals which do not break down naturally and often end up in water supplies in communities all around the country.

This is the first time the EPA is attempting to address PFAS. The chemicals can be found in cosmetics, dental floss and cleaning supplies. Several companies, including 3M, are facing lawsuits for contamination. The U.S. Department of Defense has also faced public outcry and military leaders have begun assessing the problems caused by military bases.

The Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy has dedicated MPART, the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team, to handle the situation in the state. Hugh McDiarmid Jr., EGLE communications manager, said in a statement that the department is aware of the EPA announcement, and staff is reviewing its potential impact on Michigan.

John Dulmes, Michigan Chemistry Council executive director, said in a statement the council looks forward to reviewing the EPA’s PFAS Roadmap and continuing to work with regulatory agencies on science-based policies.

“We have long held that the federal government – rather than individual states – is best-positioned to develop consistent and comprehensive regulations,” Dulmes said in a statement. “Still, many of the proposals outlined in the EPA PFAS Roadmap, including drinking water and cleanup standards, have already been undertaken by Michigan EGLE, so we will have to see how EGLE and EPA harmonize their approaches.”

Dulmes told Gongwer News Service that the Department of Defense hasn’t conformed to Michigan’s standards and with the EPA’s announcement, it would potentially be the most affected in the state.

“Michigan has been pretty aggressive and conservative in setting those standards,” he said. “It will impact other states probably more so than Michigan because Michigan has already taken those steps.”

Michigan Awarded Economic Development Grant from U.S. Commerce Department

On Oct. 21, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo announced that the Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) has begun awarding its historic $3 billion in American Rescue Plan funds to assist communities nationwide in their efforts to build back better by accelerating the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and building local economies that will be resilient to future economic shocks.

“The Biden Administration is giving states and territories the unprecedented opportunity to bring all their communities together to develop comprehensive plans to build back better and stronger,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo. “The $1 million Statewide Planning grants will be used to lay the groundwork for President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda to build resilient economies and increase U.S. Competitiveness.”

“Planning is the backbone of economic development and Building Back Better,” said Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Alejandra Y. Castillo. “EDA is proud to partner with state and territory leaders as they begin to tackle a wide range of challenges—including climate change, broadband, electric vehicle infrastructure, and pandemic recovery—and develop a comprehensive plan for their entire state or territory that ensures communities work together toward a common economic development vision for the future.”

The Chamber and MICHauto advocated on behalf of Michigan to secure this initial grant and several more rounds of grants in a letter to Commerce Secretary Raimondo.

“The Chamber is pleased to support the Detroit Regional Partnership’s (DRP) application for the grant, which supports communities through the exploration of neighborhood-based infrastructure projects, 21st Century talent programs, and innovation inclusive of historically excluded populations.  As an economic development partner of the DRP, the Chamber is committed to working collaboratively to ensure initiatives resulting from a successful DRP application are inclusive of the varied interests and demographics of our region, address long-standing equity gaps and leverage the resources of existing entities driving economic growth. Of particular interest to the Chamber is building and leveraging Michigan’s competitive advantage in the global automotive and next-generation mobility sphere. Increased economic development of the mobility sector will spur innovation and can drive more equitable growth of Southeast Michigan’s regional economy.”

The funds will flow into the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity and the Michigan Strategic Fund (MSF), where they can be deployed to tackle a wide range of economic challenges faced by communities, from infrastructure, job training, small business support, and more. At the Mackinac Policy Conference, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer laid out her $2.1 billion MI New Economy plan to grow Michigan’s middle class, support small businesses and invest in communities.  In response to the news of the grant the governor released the following statement.

“Today’s grant will build on the bipartisan budget I signed, and the MI New Economy plan I proposed to put Michiganders first and uplift families, communities, and small businesses,” said Gov. Whitmer. “I am laser-focused on tackling the big, structural economic challenges we face and will work with anyone to drive down costs for families, put more people on a path to prosperity, and invest in critical infrastructure. Together, we can usher in a new era of prosperity for our state while continuing to deliver on the kitchen-table fundamental issues.”

Michigan’s Unemployment Rate Drops in Sept. But Labor Market Remains Tight

Detroit Free Press
Oct. 20, 2021
Adrienne Roberts

Michigan’s unemployment rate declined only slightly in September, dropping to 4.6% last month, the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget said Wednesday, even as enhanced federal jobless benefits in Michigan expired.

The jobless rate is down from 4.7% in August, and is significantly lower compared with the same month last year, when the state’s unemployment rate was 8.2%.

Last month marked the expiration of enhanced federal unemployment benefits that added $300 to claimants’ weekly benefit amount and expanded benefits to cover freelancers and gig workers who traditionally wouldn’t be eligible for regular jobless benefits.

Even though Michigan reinstated its work search requirement in May, many business owners and Republican leaders said the enhanced benefits were disincentivizing people from going back to work. Many Republican-led states ended the federal benefits program early, but data shows those states saw about the same job growth as the states that didn’t end the programs early.

Even after the benefits expired after Labor Day in Michigan, the state’s labor market was considered “stable” in September, and “the unemployment rate and payroll job counts both showed minimal change over the month,” said Wayne Rourke, associate director of the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives.

While the state and the U.S. have seen significant progress since the early days of the pandemic, there are still 226,000 fewer people employed in Michigan compared with February 2020, representing a 4.8% decline.

There are also 36,000 more Michigan residents who are unemployed compared with pre-pandemic February 2020 levels, a 19.4% increase.

Most industries in Michigan saw employment gains in September, but they were minor. On a seasonally adjusted basis, the leisure and hospitality industry saw the largest monthly increase, with employment levels rising by nearly 2% compared with August.

The unemployment rate in metro Detroit, which includes Lapeer, Livingston, Macomb, Oakland, St. Clair and Wayne counties, also declined slightly to 3.9%, down from 4.1% in August. The U.S. jobless rate, meanwhile, saw a large decrease, dropping to 4.8% in September, down from 5.2% the month prior.

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Stellantis, National Business League Launch Black Supplier Development Pilot

Stellantis and the National Business League have started a supplier development program intended to boost 13 Black-owned businesses initially and 3 million in the long term.

The pilot of the National Black Supplier Development Program, announced in the spring, commenced Wednesday and will run through the first quarter of 2022, the automaker said in a news release.

The first round of businesses includes seven based in the Detroit area and companies with a range of backgrounds, from those launched by local entrepreneurs, such as Detroit-based Ace Petroleum, to enterprises with considerable name recognition, such as former Pistons “Bad Boy” Isiah Thomas’ Isiah International, based in Chicago.

The program aims to help Black-owned suppliers refine procurement strategies to land future contracts “in pursuit of greater racial equity in the marketplace,” the release said.

“The Stellantis-National Business League Black Supplier Development Program is an idea whose time has come,” Mark Stewart, COO of Auburn Hills-based Stellantis North America, said in the release.

Stewart announced the pilot launch Wednesday during a kick-off event at the company’s Conner Avenue assembly plant in Detroit.

“An idea that addresses the need to take direct, decisive and intentional action to bring economic opportunity to communities that have been denied equal access to the marketplace for far too long,” Stewart said. “To confirm, in a very intentional way, that our ability to realize the full promise of our country is to ensure that its economic systems are open to all, equally.”

As part of the program, Stellantis will lead the creation of a virtual training and development portal over the next three years, Automotive News reported in June. It will provide access to capital, mentorship, executive coaching, supplier training and development, bid posting, match-making, supply chain solutions and talent placement and acquisition.

Officials say they are viewing the pilot as the beginning of a program that will eventually help more than 2.9 million Black-owned companies around the country and world to win business with the federal government, as well as public and private sectors.

“As national trade associations pivot toward a post-COVID-19 economy, the National Business League is launching this critical program to achieve economic equity and justice for Black communities and millions of Black businesses, fulfilling the organization’s 121-year-old legacy, founded by Booker T. Washington in 1900,” Kenneth Harris, president and CEO of the National Business League, said in the release. “It is vital that corporate leaders take decisive and measurable steps outside of empty promises and platitudes to bring about commerce-driven activity in Black communities that have been historically denied access to economic opportunities for far too long.”

Companies selected for the pilot program are:

  • Ace Petroleum, based in Detroit
  • Coltrane Logistics & Trucking, based in Wixom
  • Devon Industrial Group, based in Detroit
  • Dunamis Clean Energy Partners LLC, based in Detroit
  • GS3 Global, based in Livonia
  • Multi-Training Systems, based in Southfield
  • Ryan Industries Inc., based in Wixom
  • Simontic Composite Inc., based in Greensboro
  • TEN35, based in Chicago
  • TKT & Associates Inc., based in Louisville
  • Assured Quality Systems, based in Dallas
  • Isiah International and One World Pharma, based in Chicago
  • Russell Westbrook Enterprises, based in Los Angeles

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Michigan Women Forward’s Annual WomanUp & Pitch Competition Returns, Apply by Nov. 10

Michigan Women Forward (MWF), the only public, statewide foundation devoted to Michigan women and girls’ economic and personal well-being, is looking for women entrepreneurs who want to start or grow an existing for-profit business that is at least 51% women-owned. Its annual WomanUp & Pitch competition is back, and applications are now open.

Women entrepreneurs are invited to submit entry applications consisting of a concept paper and a $20 application fee by Nov. 10.  Selected applicants will then pitch to a live audience in one of four virtual pitch competitions: West Michigan, Mar. 3; Mid-Michigan, Mar. 10; Southeast Michigan, Mar. 24; and Statewide, Mar. 31.

After the first pitch competitions, Michigan Women Forward will select 40 finalists (10 in each location) and divide them into two categories per location. The first category, Idea Phase/Startup, will include businesses open for less than three years with a revenue of less than $250,000. The second category, Established/Growth, will consist of businesses open for three years or more and have a revenue greater than $250,000.

The finalists will also pair up with advisers, business coaches, and mentors to create viable business plans and prepare to take the stage to pitch their ideas to a panel of business experts and an audience of entrepreneurs, small business owners, potential investors, and business and community leaders. The business plans, reviewed in advance by each judge, will account for 60% of the final score; the pitch, 40%.

First, second, and third place and audience-choice winners will be selected from each category and location. They will receive a cash prize of $10,000, $5,000, $2,500, and $1,000, respectively.

“WomanUp & Pitch is an amazing opportunity for budding female entrepreneurs to develop their presentation skills, think strategically to create a strong business plan, and make connections with peers and business leaders,” said Carolyn Cassin, president and chief executive officer of Michigan Women Forward.

Learn more about the WomanUp & Pitch competition and apply here.

Black Silicon Valley CEO Eric Kelly’s New Tool Could Bridge the Tech Diversity Gap

Silicon Valley CEO Eric Kelly has always been frustrated by the myth among corporate executives that finding Black talent in the tech industry is a challenge.

Kelly fortified the staff of his hybrid Cloud IT infrastructure firm with minority talent and told NBC News it wasn’t hard to do.

“The problem for others has been either they didn’t really know where to look or that they didn’t look hard enough or that they didn’t really look at all,” Kelly said.

Kelly saw an opportunity to change the narrative and has created Bridge 2 Technologies (B2T), an online platform bridging the divide between corporate America, minority talent and minority-owned businesses. The platform is designed to make Black and minority talent accessible to corporations and connect Black-owned businesses with large corporations.

The platform, which launched last Friday, will also help young employees entering the workforce connect with experienced employees for mentorship opportunities. The platform will also show small business owners how to raise capital and make valuations of their companies.

“B2T understands that despite well-meaning intentions,” Kelly said, “the right tools and technology have not existed to support diverse talent, find opportunities with companies that value economic inclusion and equality — until now.”

It’s no secret that minority talent in the tech industry is lacking. Girls Who Code CEO Tarika Barrett said at an Axios virtual event Tuesday that diversity in tech is badly needed.

We need to empower a pipeline of young people and girls of color to pursue the tech careers of the future,” Barrett told Axios. We always say that you can’t be what you can’t see.”

Additionally, Fast Company reported that a lack of diversity is a significant reason behind the Great Resignation in the tech industry. According to MarketWatch, less than 10% of workers at Google, Facebook and Uber last year were Black.

“Over the last 30 years, the diversity as it relates to Black professionals in technology and the workforce in general has been lacking, to say the least,” Kelly said. “If we are serious about closing this gap, technology has to be at the forefront.”

Kelly added B2T’s main goals are to build economic equity, create a pipeline of minority workers and companies to connect with organizations across the globe and provide mentors and sponsors for young professionals entering the workforce to come too.

Dell, AT&T, Hewlett Packard and Nasdaq have been granted early access to the B2T app along with Morgan State University, Howard University, Morehouse College and nonprofit organizations.

GoogleFacebook and Amazon have all made pledges to boost diversity and donate money to create or benefit diversity programs in tech in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter movement and the death of George Floyd.

View the original article here.

Coalition brings neighborhood, downtown Detroit park groups together to collaborate

Crain’s Detroit Business
Oct. 17, 2021
Sherri Welch 

Can collaboration among Detroit park conservancies and “friends groups” bring new resources, joint programming and cost efficiencies?

Ten groups caring for neighborhood parks and downtown public spaces have banded together to find out.

Operating as the Detroit Parks Coalition and with a memorandum of understanding, the group is looking at opportunities to share costs, collaborate on programming and jointly fundraise, while also establishing a consolidated body to work with the city of Detroit on funding and improving the parks.

The effort began with five groups that came together in 2018-19: Chandler Park Conservancy as fiduciary, Belle Isle Conservancy, Clark Park Coalition, Friends of Rouge Park and People for Palmer Park.

In January, five more joined: Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, Downtown Detroit Partnership, Friends of Patton Park, Midtown Detroit and Sidewalk Detroit.

The expanded membership brings to the coalition both neighborhood groups and major downtown park conservancies with operational and fundraising expertise and ties to business leaders who’ve been supporting parks in the city and looking at best practices for sustaining them for years.

There’s huge value for both the prominent downtown park conservancies and the neighborhood parks in collaboration, said Sigal Hemy, a former program officer of the Erb foundation, hired by the coalition in August to serve as its interim, part-time director. It’s good for the big downtown park conservancies to be seen as sharing resources and knowledge, Hemy said.

“It’s not this constant narrative of downtown vs. the neighborhoods. They are supporting the neighborhood parks.”

Conversely, if some of the neighborhood groups can springboard off of some of the knowledge and experience the large conservancies bring, “that’s a big win for them,” she said. The neighborhood groups also have their own knowledge to share about managing volunteers, for example, that downtown park conservancies can learn from.

In the planning phase since 2018-19 with a $30,000 grant from the Erb foundation, the Detroit Parks Coalition is now at a nascent point.

It’s attracted more than $2 million in planning and operating grants from the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation and the Kresge Foundation.

It’s also gained the attention of business leaders at the regional CEO group who are engaged with its work through the DDP. Three years ago, the CEO group convened stakeholders to look at development and maintenance of parks in Detroit, many supported by its members.

The committee looked at best practices, efficiencies in services and how parks can be sustained. A 2019 study commissioned from the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Land Institute echoed earlier research, reinforcing the need for a citywide parks coalition.

Businesses and foundations have put a lot of money behind public spaces, including the Detroit riverfront, Campus Martius and Beacon Park, over the past 20 years since work on the riverfront began, said Jack Entertainment Chairman Matt Cullen, who is chairman of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy’s board, a vice chairman of DDP and a member of the regional CEO group.

“The CEO group is very enthusiastic about the work that the parks coalition is doing,” he said. “It’s very much aligned with what we are hoping to happen and want to be supportive of.”

Building the coalition

Though the CEO group is not a member of the coalition, it’s very much at the table through the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy and DDP, Hemy said.

Libby Levy, who did the original strategic plan for the five initial parks, is an at-large member of its leadership team, as is Laura Trudeau, retired managing director of the Kresge Foundation’s Detroit program.

Recently, the coalition secured its first joint allocation, a $500,000 designation in the state’s 2022 budget.

“That’s a big win for us already … instead of the state picking and choosing specific projects, they are allocating the (funds) to parks coalition and the 10 members will work out how it is (split),” Hemy said.

“It’s the people who are using the parks every day making decisions about that funding.”

The coalition has also been approved for an $180,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation to stand up the organization with paid staff, a business model and a governance committee to figure out if we should spin out to our own 501c3, Hemy said. It will fund a pilot for the coalition to cover “planning and doing,” with efforts launching in January and running through June 2023, Hemy said.

Initial work will include allocating the state funding among the membership parks, developing collaborative programming, hiring a full-time coalition leader, exploring 501(c)3 status for the group and coordinating communication and marketing efforts, leaders said.

“One of the things we’re thinking about is having tours for the various parks (members) so they can get a sense of the different programming and amenities,” like the new skate park at Chandler Park, Hemy said.

“That’s best-practice sharing but also gives them a sense of who has what and where they can ask questions.”

The coalition expects to hear on two other pending grant applications before the end of the year, one to support the group’s pilot and the other to fund programming across its member parks.

While membership includes only major parks in the neighborhoods and downtown now, the goal is to grow to eventually serve conservancies, block clubs and neighborhood groups across the city’s parks, Hemy said.

“We’re starting with this tight group that has a lot in common, and our hope is we can find a way to expand and benefit everyone as we grow,” she said. Already, the coalition is working with smaller organizations, sharing how members improve safety in parks and program them. The Detroit Pistons Foundation is making mini-grants to those groups to help them implement some of those practices, Hemy said.

“At the end of the day, we want people to have really good experience in our parks, to make good memories,” said Alex Allen, executive director of the Chandler Park Conservancy and chairman of the Detroit Parks Coalition.

“When we think about parks, we have to think about a citywide system,” he said.

“We gain a lot of perspective from things happening in other parks … as far as programs, fundraising, as far as our relationship with the city of Detroit.”

The coalition gives members the ability to go to the city with one voice to address issues they all face, like trash, Allen said. It also brings opportunities to jointly pursue new revenue. Funders are getting requests from individual parks, he said. “From their vantage point, it’s a lot easier and maybe more efficient to make a (grant) to one entity to support parks.”

The coalition has something to offer for members big and small, downtown and in the neighborhoods, Hemy said.

Smaller organizations have a lot to learn about capacity and structure, she said. At the same time, “the larger organizations have a lot to learn from smaller organizations about how they mobilize volunteers.”

“The Detroit Parks Coalition is a clear demonstration of what can happen when nonprofits and community stakeholders are working collaboratively and in partnership with one another,” said Michele Hodges, president and CEO of the Belle Isle Conservancy.

“Already we have made strides with fundraising, in furthering a solid relationship with the city of Detroit, in coordinated programming, impactful marketing and communications, in establishing a vision for the long-term sustainability of our parks and, perhaps most significantly, equity and access to opportunity for all parks and their visitors.”

Right now member parks are funded through a mix of city of Detroit parks and recreation resources, philanthropic support, endowments, business sponsorships and volunteer labor, Hemy said. The city owns the majority of park land and does ongoing maintenance like picking up trash and mowing grass, though that doesn’t always happen to the extent it’s needed — especially during the pandemic when the city lost revenue while park use skyrocketed.

Philanthropy tends to help with a specific capital project or program, while endowments benefit larger organizations like the DDP and riverfront conservancy, as opposed to the smaller People for Palmer Park, for example. Some park groups also have membership fees, and rely on volunteer work.

Best practices

The collaborative model for park conservancies is new to Detroit but not other cities like New York, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, said Trudeau.

Trudeau benchmarked efforts in those cities during her time at Kresge and produced a report on models for long-term sustainability of parks and public spaces with Brookings Institution. “One of the observations was that collaboration and cooperation can lead to more resources and a lot of synergy in terms of knowledge-sharing and cost-sharing,” Trudeau said.

A decade later, the DDP, on whose board Trudeau serves, and its CEO Eric Larson tapped her again to do research on the sustainability of parks and public spaces.

By the spring of 2018, the DDP was testing the waters for an endowment campaign while also seeking to increase earned revenue and sponsorships to create sustainable revenue for the ongoing upkeep of Campus Martius and other parks it oversees, including: Cadillac Square, Campus Martius, Capitol Park, Grand Circus Park and Beacon Park.

And by summer of that year, the regional CEO group was looking closely at the issue, led by Cullen and a committee that included Trudeau, Larson and others.

“Cities can do a lot, but there are things the private sector — foundations, nonprofits, companies and individuals — can do to make the parks even better,” by working to grow the pot of resources available to parks, building on the city’s investments, Trudeau said.

The coalition “allows us to think about the entire network of parks as a whole and try to ensure equity,” she said.

As with Campus Martius, there is always a lot of excitement and funding available for the creation of great ideas, Larson said. Raising the capital to build the park was not easy, but it was successful. But what often isn’t looked at is the ongoing sustained funding.

“If we’re going to continue to represent a network of parks that are best-in-class for public spaces … the last thing you want to do is fall short on operating needs,” he said.

Funding requests that aren’t coordinated are going to get harder and harder to justify for public-private partners, Larson said.

“There are investment opportunities that are out there, whether it’s the dollars potential available through (the American Rescue Plan Act), the new infrastructure spending bill or just a better way to approach a potential funder. Having a united and collective voice often is more compelling and can be a stronger voice as we advocate for … sustainable operation of these public spaces.”

The ability for neighborhood parks and downtown parks to work together on a unified basis is much more strategic and equitable, he said.

“I’m very excited about a more formal working relationship with the network of parks … (and) hope the city would feel more comfortable that there is a collective voice,” Larson said.

“That doesn’t mean we’ll all always agree, but it does mean we are aware, working and driving toward the same outcome.”

Right now, fundraising for parks is done by individual parks, Cullen said. By definition, making one-off park investments isn’t necessarily the best approach.

“You’d like to have a consistent funding mechanism with sufficient capacity. That’s what we are aspiring to and continue to work on,” Larson said.

The goal “is to make sure our community can support those types of spaces in a more consistent and broad-based way.”

The Detroit Parks Coalition is a great example of organizations working together to share resources, scale services and collaborate, said Paul Trulik, CEO of Apparatus Solutions and CFO of the DDP.

It’s also a notable example of how long it takes to bring groups together, said Trulik, who is consulting one-on-one with nonprofits to help them do scenario-planning through a program hosted and funded by Detroit-based Co.act Detroit.

“Perhaps the pandemic (and) current environment will expedite some of these conversations” among other nonprofits, Trulik said.

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Butzel immigration law attorney Bushra Malik named to 2022 edition of Best Lawyers® in the Midwest ‘Lawyer of the Year’

TROY, Mich. – Bushra Malik, Butzel attorney and shareholder, has been named to the 2022 edition of Best Lawyers® second annual Best Lawyers in the Midwest publication. Best Lawyers is the oldest and most respected guide to the legal profession.

Using information excerpted from the 2022 editions of The Best Lawyers in America® and the Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America, this stand-alone publication features more than 10,000 lawyers recognized for their top legal talent in the Midwest. For research purposes, smaller and more rural cities located within a reasonable distance to larger cities are combined into single geographical regions called “metro areas” to help collect as much feedback and data as possible. The Midwest region, as defined by Best Lawyers, includes metro areas located within six states: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.

In addition to the lists of recognized lawyers, the publication includes regionally relevant editorial content, information on the award methodology process, a brief company overview, the Best Lawyers metro area map and a section recognizing the “Lawyer of the Year” awards designated through these metro area distinctions.

“Lawyer of the Year” honorees are based on extremely high overall feedback within specific practice areas and metropolitan regions. Notably, the 2022 edition of Best Lawyers in the Midwest “Lawyer of the Year” section includes a feature on Malik.

Malik, based in Butzel’s Troy office, practices in the area of immigration law, focusing on the representation of multinational and domestic clients’ inbound and global migration needs. Her experience includes Employment based (Extraordinary Ability, Outstanding Researcher, Multinational Manager, and PERMs) and Family based Permanent Residence Petitions, Non-Immigrant Petitions (H-1B/Specialty Occupation, J-1/ Exchange Visitor, L-1/Intracompany Transfers, O-1/Extraordinary Ability, TN/ NAFTA); Employer Compliance (I-9 Audits and H-1B Public Access File Audits); J-1 waivers; Compliance under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiate (WHTI); U.S. Passports; complex naturalization matters; and currency seizures.

Malik currently serves on the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Department of State National Liaison Committee. Malik previously served as the Chair of the AILA Michigan Chapter; is the past Chair of AILA’s Global Migration Section; and speaks regularly at AILA national and international conferences.

About Butzel

Butzel is one of the leading law firms in Michigan and the United States. It was founded in Detroit in 1854 and has provided trusted client service for more than 160 years. Butzel’s full-service law offices are located in Detroit, Bloomfield Hills, Lansing and Ann Arbor, Mich.; New York, NY; and, Washington, D.C., as well as an alliance office in Beijing. It is an active member of Lex Mundi, a global association of 160 independent law firms. Learn more by visiting www.butzel.com or follow Butzel on Twitter: https://twitter.com/butzel_long