UpNext is an editorial series highlighting eight burgeoning business and real estate developers in the city. Presented by the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, the series highlights Detroit professionals who are leaders, innovators, and influencers in their industry and community. This week’s UpNext professional is Pierre Batton.
Pierre Batton is an adopted son of Detroit. Originally from the West coast, Batton moved to the motor city in 2010.
“Detroit being a majority Black city just had this real pull to me and allure. Add to the fact that my parents decided to retire in the metro Detroit area, it was already a no-brainer slam dunk,” said Batton. “It was the right move at the right time for all the right reasons.
He’s been interested in bettering municipal economies, particularly Black-owned businesses, dating back to his senior undergraduate thesis focusing on economic development in the Black community. Batton now serves as the vice president of small business services for the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC).
“We are about a 20 person staff, charged with covering the entire city. There’s a total of 62,000 businesses in the city of Detroit; a little over 54,000 of which, are micro-businesses that have less than 10 employees,” said Batton. “Ultimately, the role of me and my team is to make sure that small businesses across Detroit have what they need to execute their vision for the future to be able to scale up, grow, and expand.”
Batton acknowledges challenges for Black residents, especially to own, operate, start, or expand a business in Detroit.
“We know that systemic racism is real, and businesses in Detroit are overwhelmingly minority-owned. We know that resources do not always trickle down in the way they need to, so from a resource standpoint, we are always here to make sure that information is getting out.”
The pandemic created yet another obstacle for Detroit’s development as many Black businesses missed out on the initial Payment Protection Program (PPP) loans. Batton and his team are currently working to ensure business owners have the information and resources for the new round of PPP, which opened this month.
Batton says it will take more than just one organization for Motown to continue to prosper.
“We are seeing investment move out further and deeper into the neighborhoods of Detroit. We still have work to do, but Kevin Johnson, CEO of DEGC, says, ‘economic development is a team sport.’”
Local leaders are one component of that team. Last year, Batton and DEGC partnered with government officials to provide over 11 million dollars in cash grants to Detroit small businesses.
Batton says neighborhoods also play a pivotal role in successful economic developments. In 2018, DEGC conducted a study that found that Detroit residents spend 2.6 billion dollars a year on goods and services outside the city. This unmet demand is a significant reason Batton considers listening to residents essential for sustained development.
“The community in Detroit always has a strong sense of what it desires and will continue to relay that information. They will let us know when we have it right, and when things need to be tweaked. We serve on behalf of Detroit residents, and ultimately, Detroit residents will continue to guide the revitalization and rebirth,” said Batton.
As a Detroit resident himself for more than a decade, Batton now considers himself a Detroiter and takes pride in how his career correlates to his way of life.
“It makes the difference for my family to live in Detroit. I am wearing both hats. We live, work, and play here just like the community we serve and so that helps us better understand the importance of what we are doing.”
For Batton, a successful Detroit boils down to increased economic mobility. He aims to look back one day and say he was a part of the journey of businesses that have sustained for decades. He is quick to point out that while entrepreneurship is not the answer for all, he is committed to working towards economic advancement.
“Small business ownership is a great answer for some, while for others it’s upskilling to advance in the labor market. The real goal regardless of the path someone takes is economic mobility. We can all get on board with increased economic mobility for Detroiters, for households of color, and Black households across the city. To be able to impact that would be an honor.”