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Celebrating Diverse Voices Town Hall with Dennis W. Archer Sr. and Dennis W. Archer Jr.

Dennis W. Archer Sr. is chairman emeritus at Dickinson Wright PLLC and was mayor of Detroit from 1994 until 2011, while Dennis W. Archer Jr. is chief executive officer at Ignition Media Group and founding partner of Archer Corporate Services.

The father and son duo joined the Detroit Regional Chamber’s virtual audience for a new session of Celebrating Diverse Voices. They participated in a discussion with Tammy Carnrike, chief operating officer at the Chamber, looking at Detroit through the decades when it comes to systematic racism and work underway to improve equity for Black Detroiters. The Archers also shared their perspectives on where the focus needs to be going forward to create better outcomes and opportunities for individuals.

Carnrike recalled the 2017 memoir penned by Archer Sr. titled, “Let the Future Begin,” taken from his 1993 mayoral campaign slogan, which led him to victory as well as subsequent leadership roles during key times including Detroit’s revitalization.

“How has the business landscape changed since then, and did it change the way you thought it would?” Carnrike asked the former mayor.

Archer Sr. said he views Detroit’s business landscape as transformed for the better following the city’s recovery from its bankruptcy. He also credited stronger relationships between business, the community, the city’s administration, and the state with helping the city grow beyond its dark days.

While Archer Jr. mostly agreed with his father, he insisted there’s room to improve equitable investment in Detroit’s neighborhoods versus the city’s downtown area.

“Detroit’s 139 or so square miles, the greater downtown Detroit area is 7.2 miles,” said Archer Jr. “There was a report that was updated quarterly for a number of years called the 7.2 Square Mile Report, because that is where a lot of the focus has been as it relates to development.”

Archer Jr. credits Mayor Mike Duggan and businessman and investor, Dan Gilbert, with helping to “increase investor confidence” for the city in the post-Recession era by securing new investments, jobs, and attracting large-scale businesses to the downtown area.

But the investment should spread to Detroit’s neighborhoods, Archer Jr. said, to ensure residents are being more equitably involved.

“People in Detroit neighborhoods want the same thing that people in suburban neighborhoods want,” explained Archer Jr. “They want to go get coffee really close, go to the grocery store, the drugstore, the dry cleaners, and get gas within one or two minutes for their home.”

Archer Jr. concluded, “That’s prime opportunity for investors to invest in their neighborhoods.”

Although Archer Jr. said he understands investment often begins in a robust downtown, especially in “a city that’s laid out like the city of Detroit,” he said, “there’s more to do than has been done.”

Carnrike then asked the Archers to share how systematic racism has impacted revitalization efforts in the previous decades and how is it impacting those efforts today. Archer Sr. recalled his time of running for mayor and hearing businesses of color complain and confide in him about their lack of access to capital.

Once elected, Archer Sr. set out to create an equity fund that would allow businesses owned by African Americans and Hispanics to be able to borrow money. With help from Comerica Bank Senior Vice President Brenda Snyder, at the time, Archer Sr. was able to secure more than the $500 million first offered.

“They came up with a billion dollars that businesses could access if they wanted to borrow money to be in the Empowerment Zone,” recalled Archer Sr. Subsequently, Chrysler came to the city offering a $750 million investment in a new plant.

“And it just kept building and building,” recalled the former mayor. “The city of Detroit had the best investment by new businesses and the like than any other city in the United States.”

But again, Archer Jr. pointed to a lack of inclusion in today’s investment conversations happening in Detroit.

“Business in large part is based on relationships,” explained Archer Jr. “And so, while Black folks may get left out of opportunities in this area…we do get left out of opportunities more so.” He continued to say, “But it’s not always caused by racist, prejudicial, or unjust policy. Sometimes, it’s rooted in relationships.”

Carnrike’s final question for the Archers focused on the role of business in shaping a more equitable future in the decade ahead.

Both father and son agreed that businesses should keep in mind the predicted future browning of America and try to get ahead today by creating meaningful diversity across the board.

“A business should be reflective of the broader community,” said Archer Jr.