Detroit Policy Conference Keeps Small Business at the Forefront  

Ignition Media Group CEO Dennis Archer Jr., and founding partner of Archer Corporate Services, left, interviews Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist during the 2021 Detroit Policy Conference.

Photo courtesy of the Detroit Regional Chamber



The Detroit Regional Chamber recently hosted the 2021 Detroit Policy Conference where small businesses took center stage.  

From restaurants and mom and pop shops to new establishments coming online and down the street – they were all discussed Tuesday, July 13 at The Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre as entrepreneurs, community, and city leaders (among others) learned about the heartbeat of economic development opportunities in Detroit especially coming out on the other side of the pandemic.   

“I’m still figuring out, we’re still figuring out the day to day,” Stephanie Byrd, co-owner of Flood’s Bar and Grille in Detroit’s Greektown community, The Garden Theater, and Midtown dining restaurant The Block said on a panel discussion. “Every day (there is) something new we’re facing. … I’m excited though … collaborations and partnerships are the future.”  

Ignition Media Group CEO Dennis Archer Jr., and founding partner of Archer Corporate Services, was the Conference Chair for the event. He spoke about everything from racial injustice to being more inclusive of Black people and women.  

Byrd was like many of the thousands of restaurants that closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, with lasting effects still being felt in 2021.  

As the annual policy conference shined a light on small businesses, the discussion quickly centered around how can Detroiters “come back stronger” from the devastating health crisis? Many were concerned about what the future held economically, and it showed.  

According to a November poll released by the Detroit Regional Chamber, 58% of Michigan voters said helping small businesses come back was the first issue that Michigan leaders should address coming out of COVID-19. Other issues were top of mind, too, especially for community leaders.  

Archer said that “we owe it to ourselves” to address inequities, wealth gaps, and other issues that “plague Detroit” and the country.  

“The good news is Detroit has a phenomenal foundation of support — our civic, philanthropic community elected leadership time after time, crisis after crisis – we prove that we can be aligned,” he said.  

Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II also spoke at the event and said that the policy conference is an invitation into an important conversation about how everyone can “unlock the opportunity” and potential that is available to all economically.  

“That is why we are here,” Gilchrist said. “The regional chamber exists to bring people together for this purpose. If not for shared prosperity, what are we doing?”  

Gilchrist added that there are multiple realms to invest in and from an entrepreneurial standpoint, it’s time to create businesses to solve “the deepest need.”  

“Think about the challenges we face as a state,” he said referencing climate change and recent floods. “We can demonstrate with entrepreneurial rigor and vigor how we can address environmental injustices. … I believe we can apply toward those challenges that will help our state, communities, economy grow. And that growth is a magnetic force.”  

Archer asked during a one-on-one discussion with Gilchrist how the state government will ensure proper infrastructure dollars are routed to Detroit to prevent future flooding disasters that left numerous Detroiters with damaged basements, properties, and more.  

“Detroiters understand environmental injustice inherently,” Gilchrist said, adding that he and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer are having conversations at the federal level to make changes happen.   

“Michigan needs to have targeted investment; we should not be under threat,” Gilchrist said.   

Anika Goss, CEO of Detroit Future City (DFC), a think tank, policy advocate, and data-driven non-profit organization, spoke during the event and discussed how important Detroit’s inclusive growth is.  

She shared how over the years neighborhoods have been lost and gained, but not all equitably in the city. DFC is trying to grow the middle class and wants to bring Detroit to an income range of between $52,000 and $130,000 a year.  

“It is really important for us to move that needle,” she said. “Two-thirds of Detroiters are making less than $50,000 a year. It’s this notion that is really why we need to create an economic agenda to move Detroiters into the middle class.”  

Goss also shared how it is important to talk about race in the roughly 80 percent Black city as the discussion of equity continues.  

“The economic gains we make for Detroit are economic gains we are making for Black people here in Detroit and that matters,” Goss said.  

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