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The Knight Foundation is pumping $2.5 million into the Detroit business economy with a grant to the Detroit Development Fund.

The grant, announced Wednesday, will support early stage retail and creative businesses in the city and advance the fund’s mission of revitalizing economically distressed areas in Detroit. It will also have a focus on minority and female entrepreneurs, officials said.

Established in 1996, the Detroit Development Fund has made $37 million in loans, created or retained 1,600 jobs and financed the renovation of 1,400 units of affordable housing, according to officials with the foundation.

It has provided more than $500,000 worth of technical assistance to Detroit businesses, contractors and rehabbers, said Ray Waters, president of the Detroit Development Fund.

“We have made great progress over the last several years helping to ignite Detroit’s community of entrepreneurs,” Waters said. “Knight support allowed us to expand our programs in Detroit and this additional funding will be an important part of our continued growth.”

Knight originally made the $2.5 million available to the fund as a low-interest loan. Converting the program-related investment to a grant will strengthen the fund’s balance sheet, allowing it to leverage the support to attract more capital and expand its activities, said Katy Locker, Knight Foundation program director for Detroit.

“Creating a strong local pipeline for small business growth in Detroit is vital to its transformation,” Locker said. “With more capacity, Detroit Development Fund has the potential to expand economic opportunity in our city and support the people who have the ideas and energy we need to progress and grow.”

Since 2008 the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has pledged more than $80 million to Detroit, including a $19.25 million investment in the arts announced in 2012.

JChambers@detroitnews.com

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