Bing: Black residents left out of Detroit’s comeback
Former Mayor Dave Bing contends many black residents don’t feel they are part of the city’s resurgence.
“As much as we say or think we are being inclusive, the reality is we are not,” Bing said Wednesday during a brief address at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Detroit Policy Conference at the MotorCity Casino. “There is an undercurrent of frustration and anger that could lead to a negative outcome.”
Bing said he’s spent the last several months meeting with African-American businesses, students and others in the community and has found there’s a lot of fear in people to say how they feel.
“African-American economic empowerment and neighborhood development must be an essential part of Detroit’s resurgence,” Bing added. “Diversity is about counting people. Inclusion is about making people count.”
The prominent Ilitch and Gilbert families are responsible for much of the redevelopment in the city, and more involvement from African-Americans is needed to keep that momentum going, he said.
“There are a lot of black folks in key corporations, but they are nameless, they’re faceless,” he said.
Nearly 80 percent of the city’s population is African-American. In 2014, the city’s white population grew by nearly 8,000, marking the first significant increase since 1950.
Service and business opportunities have been on the rise in Detroit since the city’s 2014 exit from the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.
Ken Harris, president and CEO of the Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce, agreed there’s work to be done on inclusion. There are more than 32,000 black businesses in the city, and 64 percent of all businesses are African-American owned, based on 2007 statistics.
“Is the focus on a centralized district that is between downtown and New Center, or is the focus in the neighborhoods?” said Harris, who represents 3,200 black businesses in Michigan. “The reason the city is able to do what it’s doing downtown is because of the folks with the housing stock in the neighborhoods and those entrepreneurs that currently exist. People feel like there’s a disconnect.”
Bing — a former Piston and businessman whose former Detroit auto supply business once employed 1,100 workers — shared his view one day after Mayor Mike Duggan delivered his third State of the City address to a crowd of about 3,000 on the city’s east side with an overarching theme of opportunity.
Boysie Jackson, the city’s chief procurement officer, was appointed near the end of Bing’s administration and has held the same role under Duggan. He said the city’s involvement with minority companies is much improved, as is its alliance with the chamber of commerce.
“Our minority companies and Detroit-based businesses between that period of time and now is like night and day,” he said.
Duggan’s team has initiated several programs geared toward small business startups or expansion. Detroit’s Motor City Match, launched in early 2015 by Duggan and the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., provides $500,000 every quarter to help entrepreneurs start or grow businesses in Detroit neighborhoods. Out of 195 businesses in the program, 70 percent are minority-owned and 66 percent are Detroiters.
In addition, more than $20 million in contracts for the city’s massive demolition work have gone to minority-owned firms. This month, Duggan also challenged city businesses and foundations to assist in his effort to get 8,000 Detroit youths matched with jobs this summer.
“It starts with these kids getting summer time work, that’s OK, but we’ve got to look beyond that,” Bing told reporters Wednesday about such programs.
Detroit Economic Growth Corp. President and CEO Rodrick Miller said Wednesday there has to be a more directed effort to make sure that those here are included and have a seat at the table.
“It can’t be about just businesses that have been here or just new businesses,” Miller said. “We really have to have an approach that says we need all the development that we can, and we’re going to work just as hard for businesses that have been here as we are for new companies coming in.”
He doesn’t believe that Detroiters have an issue with new companies or development. They just want to know that they have opportunities, too.
Miller said this is the first time in nearly 40 years that this city has had this type of investment opportunity. The administration has been diligent and intentional about making sure there’s inclusion, he said. But there’s always room for improvement.
“There is a window of opportunity, so we’ve got to get it right now,” he said. “The reality is it’s like driving a car while you are putting it together.”
Bing noted on Wednesday that he has lived or worked in Detroit for nearly 50 years and believes he knows its people.
Businesses aren’t springing up in the city’s main corridors — Woodward, Grand River, Gratiot and Michigan — where a lot of the people live. That’s what has to happen, he said.
“People are coming in and getting the jobs, and people who have been here feel frustrated,” said Bing, founder and chairman of the Bing Youth Institute, a mentoring program. “We must identify, hire and promote African-Americans within your companies. This will go a long way for meaningful inclusion.”
Bing added that he’s not close enough to the Duggan administration to speak about its inclusion efforts.
“I support Mike because I want him to succeed,” he said. “If he succeeds, the city is going to succeed. I don’t have anything negative to say about him. But his management style is probably quite different than those people are accustomed to.”
The automotive industry was a fortress for African-American small businesses and automotive suppliers. But globalization has changed the paradigm, he said. Black contractors and developers, he added, find themselves “on the outside looking in.”
Bing noted the 1967 riot and the impact it had on the city. He said he worries now that if the city were to face another uprising, it’s lacking the strong political and community leaders — such as Mayor Coleman Young, Councilwoman Erma Henderson and leader Horace Sheffield Jr. — it once had to help galvanize the city.
Bing said “Detroit’s not far from Ferguson, Baltimore or Chicago. Maybe just one incident away.”