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Vice President Joe Biden, visiting Detroit to praise 15 small business owners who won grants to bring services to city neighborhoods, had admiring words for Detroit and its mayor, Mike Duggan. Clarence Tabb Jr., The Detroit News

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Detroit — In one of his last public appearances before Democrats leave the White House, Vice President Joe Biden told a group of Detroiters Tuesday that one of the things he is most proud of is that Detroit — like the rest of the nation — has come back during the last eight years.

“We never break. We always innovate. We always overcome. We always move forward. That’s America,” Biden said. “And Detroit is the single shining example ... that demonstrates that’s who we are.”

Biden made the comments to 15 small business owners who won grants from a program that matches businesses with city real estate. Known as Motor City Match, the program launched in 2015 by Mayor Mike Duggan with funding and technical support to help businesses succeed and is now hailed as the city’s signature small business initiative.

Since its genesis, nearly $3 million in grants have been awarded to nearly 500 businesses that are new or expanding and bringing services, arts and more to city neighborhoods.

Duggan invited Biden to be present on Tuesday during the sixth announcement of awards: $600,000, its largest amount, ranging from $10,000 to $75,000 to businesses. Among the recipients were a youth empowerment center, an artist’s incubator, several restaurants and cafes, a massage therapy center, custom furniture-maker and a metalsmithing and jewelry-making studio.

Earlier Tuesday, as guests awaited Biden’s arrival at Detroit School for Digital Technology on the city’s southwest side, Duggan told the business owners that Detroit’s revival could be attributed in part to the city’s entrepreneurial spirit.

“You are going to be the city’s comeback,” Duggan said.

Biden later said that small businesses are among the largest job creators. They are central in sustaining Detroit growth, and not just in the city center, Biden added.

“Motor City Match is doing that,” said the vice president said, adding Duggan was the visionary who moved the program forward.

Motor City Match is a partnership of the city of Detroit, the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., the Economic Development Corp. and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

It is matched with more that $7 million in federal community block grant funds, along with city funds and local foundations.

Of the Motor City Match winners, two-thirds have been Detroit-owned businesses and 70 percent have been minority-owned. After the business owners’ personal investment and traditional funding are leveraged with Motor City Match funds, the program has led to $14 million in investment, officials estimate.

Besides the grants, the program also provides entrepreneurs with business plan writing assistance, finding spaces and renovation planning.

Bank of America has been a supporter of Motor City Match since its inception, said Tiffany Douglas, a senior vice president.

“It impacts so many different things from community development to job creation to small business entrepreneurs,” Douglas said. “It’s about economic mobility for neighborhoods.”

Douglas added she was thrilled Biden came to Detroit as one of his last stops before the changing of the guard to President-elect Donald Trump later this month.

“It demonstrates one of the nation’s communities that continues to grow and innovate,” Douglas said. “We’re not just autos. We’re diverse in culture, background and nature. The possibilities here are endless.”

Among the winners gathered Tuesday were Nefertiti Steward and Jelani Brown, partners with Truth Bookstore, an Afrocentric bookstore that was previously located inside the former Northland Mall. In the two years since the mall closed, they have been looking for a new location to continue the business, which has offered books and services for more than 20 years.

Funds from the Motor City Match program will help Steward, the owner, and Brown, her partner, in setting up on the northwest side of Detroit at Meyers Road and Puritan.

“It’s a need in the community,” said Steward, who won a $15,000 grant. “People continue to want to read.”

Brown added there are only two other Afrocentric bookstores in Detroit, and since the community is primarily populated by African Americans, the store will serve the residents.

“The percentage of African Americans in Detroit is the reason why we’re here,” Brown said. “Just like you need a bookstore in the Jewish community. Or in the Polish community.”

Afterward, the vice president made a short visit to the North American International Auto Show. Biden was traveling later Tuesday to Chicago to be with President Barack Obama during his farewell speech.

KKozlowski@detroitnews.com

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