Small Business Leaders in Detroit Get to Work With A Lot of ‘Might and Muscle’

When you think of the city of Detroit more than likely it’s the people — determined, brilliant, resilient individuals — who might come to mind.   

Thoughts that probably follow immediately afterward are the city’s businesses and its sprawling economic landscape – and what could be in terms of leveling the playing field, especially for small businesses catching up as the pandemic subsides in Michigan.   

Michigan Chronicle’s Digital Anchor Andre Ash sat down in mid-June with Kevin Johnson, president and chief executive officer for the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC), the city’s leading inclusive economic development driver, and Pierre Batton, vice president, Small Business Services, at the DEGC and Detroit Means Business (DMB) president.  

DMB was formed in response to COVID-19 and it carved out a plan through the business disruption providing much-needed guidance for the local establishments in desperate need of assistance. Housed under the DEGC, DMB was developed in partnership with a wide range of government, business, nonprofit and philanthropic partners to help small businesses in Detroit safely and successfully reopen last year.    

Ash said that with small businesses being the “heartbeat of Detroit’s economy” and defining communities, creating jobs and providing needed services, they also reduce poverty and more.  

“There is also an unmet demand for goods and services in the city of Detroit and as a result Detroiters cross the border and spend billions of dollars in suburban communities,” Ash said. The DEGC and DMB are working together to rebuild Detroit’s small business community and “recapture” some of that lost revenue from the pandemic, too.   

Johnson said that the pandemic aligned priorities and focuses in the business community, and from those supporting the business community.  

“There was a firm commitment by the administration, and tools we had available from the DEGC to bring all of those things together for the outcome that we desire, which was to open as many small businesses in commercial corridors and neighborhoods as we could,” he said, adding that small businesses are “neighborhood stabilizers.”  

“When those types of small business services are … disrupted, it has this cascading effect.”  

Johnson added that right now the two entities are trying to get businesses stabilized and help them recoup their losses, even if it is just a percentage.  

“[It is] better than nothing at all,” he said.   

Ash asked Batton what is the ultimate goal for the business ecosystem as “we try to climb out of COVID?”  

Batton said that COVID-19 impacted Detroit, the state, nation and world on all fronts, especially from a health perspective in addition to the personal, physical, emotional and mental tolls it took.  

“Small businesses last year had been extremely impacted in the city of Detroit,” Batton said, adding that oftentimes small businesses, sole proprietors had it the hardest. “Barbershops and hair salons were the last to open last June.”  

He also said that when DMB came together as a coalition they ensured that the small business community had its needs met.  

“The world came to a halt; we wanted to make sure our businesses were there when everything reopened so we all banded together,” Batton said. “We have a lot of might and muscle at the table including organizations that helmed Kevin here in terms of the DEGC, in terms of other partners, Invest Detroit, Tech Town, DTE Energy.”  

The coalition talked the talk and walked the walk last year giving $15 million in cash grants to over 2,200 businesses in the city of Detroit. They continue to make strides today, too.  

On Tuesday, June 29, the Detroit City Council approved a plan to appropriate $826 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds.  

Detroit will receive the fifth-largest amount of any city in America. The total $1.9 trillion federal stimulus bill was signed into law in March 2021 to help alleviate the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic.  

There will be two payments, with $413 million distributed this June 2021, with the second equal disbursement in May 2022. On June 7, the City Council gathered to ask community members how they feel the money should be spent.   

Johnson said that some of those dollars will go to the small business community.  

“Dollars will be directed and Detroit Means Business and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation and other entities in the city that actually touch small businesses will be the receiver of some of those allocations not just to stand our organization,” Johnson said. “Our organization is designed to get money out … there is a target for small businesses to be benefitting [from] those … dollars.”  



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