Where one might see a dilapidated building, overgrown brush in a parking lot, and blight, contractor Brian McKinney of local Gayanga Co. sees an opportunity, development, and a chance to give back to the community he grew up in.
All of the above was evident on Nov. 10 at 14445 Lawton, home to a new site of three parcels of land along with one parcel along Livernois. The sites will be used for a new headquarters, training facility for skilled trades, and full-service garage through Gayanga.
This project, approved by the city of Detroit, is one of the first of its kind of developments aimed at training residents in trades with the hope of solving the problems of labor shortages in the state. And with the school and headquarters located in the city, students can have easy access to their education.
McKinney said that the city of Detroit, the administration, and other entities, worked with his team over the past 18 months as they put the plan together.
“We looked at numerous sites, went through what has worked in the past,” he said. “We had different questions and also the City Council aided us greatly.”
Detroit City Councilwoman Janeé Ayers said while onsite that day that it’s a “monumental experience” and “game-changer” for the city and neighborhood.
“When you look around and see our surroundings, we need to have something like this happening to be able to train people,” Ayers said. “I am just proud of Brian that he took the initiative to do it.”
McKinney said, while onsite at Lawton, that the recently passed Proposal N was a “tremendous help” with moving this project forward.
“It guarantees that businesses like ours have access to opportunities and with Proposal N we now can make investments like this and be sure that we have a steady flow of work not only for ourselves but Detroiters across the board,” McKinney said. The project, which costs a total of $6 million, is funded by his company and federal grants. “Between this site and Livernois we will continue to oversee all the training, and Livernois will be where we actually perform heavy equipment, pre-apprenticeship program.”
The Lawton site is where McKinney’s company will be based, along with other companies that might not be able to afford their own place to store their equipment safely.
McKinney added that presently the company is finalizing the site plans but the layout will be a roughly 6,000-square-foot office building and 6,000- square-foot training facility at the Lawton site; a 20,000-square-foot inventory shop and 20,000-square-foot mechanic’s yard will also make their home at the Livernois site.
The new skilled trades program [with the first phase of development beginning in 2021] plans to train up to 400 people annually; their current pre-apprentice carpentry work has a cohort of 50 with 125 participants to be trained by next spring.
McKinney said to succeed in professional endeavors “activate your voice” and be authentic in understanding why you are doing what you are doing.
“Don’t be afraid to have uncomfortable conversations if you are in a room with people who don’t look like you and really own your vision and don’t be afraid to dream big,” he said.
Dreaming big for McKinney also entails giving back to his hometown community.
“What most excites me is the fact that we’re in an area that has a high poverty rate and we’re going to make sure that Detroiters have access to get trained by leading where we are,” he said of tracking the data to ensure the community impact. “How many people become homeowners? How many people are able to send their kids to get good quality healthcare? … I also think there is a commitment to show one of the messages we want to get out today is that businesses that are making money off of the city of Detroit should be doing business to improve the city of Detroit.”
Detroit resident Sherrie Smith, who lives nearby the Lawton project site, says that she and other community members organized a community meeting last month to obtain more information from McKinney and were happy with what they learned.
“We looked to get accurate information based on what the project was and dig into it,” she said adding that the Lawton site was empty for so long and there are some environmental concerns on the site that she is looking forward to being cleaned up.
“This is somebody who wants to invest their time, their resources, their headquarters, and spend time in this community. Those are the types of developments we want to see,” she said, adding that it’s “major” for her that a Black developer like McKinney is setting a tone for the community at large.
“I have a 7-year-old son. I want my son to be able to see Black business owners putting Black people to work in a majority Black city and improving their majority Black neighborhood. I want him to see that there is more in his trajectory,” she said. “He could be not only creating space for himself but creating a space and opportunity for people other than himself. That is true community-mindedness.”