The Booker T. Washington Business Association, the city’s oldest Black business group, wants to see more opportunities for African American businesses in Detroit.
Ahead of its annual business meeting May 13 at the St. Regis Hotel, the organization’s president, Bill Ross, said while some progress has been made to include Black-owned businesses in the city’s economic revitalization, there needs to be more quantifying efforts in doing so.
Ross said Detroiters would only feel a part of the city’s comeback when they see their own taking part in the economic boom.
“When I look at what is going on I think there has been some progress. But I think there is room for more improvement and the jury is still out on if many African American businesses are receiving opportunity to participate in the projects that are being announced,” Ross said. “There are a lot of things that need to be done, and what we want to see is who is participating in these projects? Who are the stakeholders? It is okay to send out RFPs but we need to find out who is winning those RFPs?”
Ross said there should be an effective outreach program “to ensure adequate inclusion. People feel good when they see folks that look like them taking part in these projects.”
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan highlighted inclusion in his State of the City Address, which Ross finds encouraging. The mayor also was a featured speaker at the group’s gathering last year.
“Now that we are out of bankruptcy the mayor has more control over the decisions that are made in terms of procurement and contracts,” Ross said.
“There are lots of businesses who have been here through difficult times and never left the city. They need a boost, not a handout. They need a hand up. What I’m concerned about is the number of Blacks participating in terms of dollars and whether we can see an increase.”
Given that the economy is improving, Ross said, “The opportunities must parallel that.”
Duggan’s economic chief, Roderick Miller, CEO of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, has also made inclusion a central focus of his work.
“Economic advancement has to happen for everyone. If everyone can’t participate in the economic growth process, then the process is a flawed one. It doesn’t mean that this is a handout, it is an opportunity,” Miller said. “For economies that have been decimated and that have experienced population decline of the magnitude of Detroit, you’ve got to have dramatic shifts in strategy.”