Bankole: Detroit needs a plan to leave no one behind

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

Detroit entrepreneur Danielle D. North pulled no punches in her assessment of the recent Detroit Future City report that revealed glaring economic inequities in the city.

“We need programs, incentives and a sincere focus on existing business owners and those interested in starting new businesses in the neighborhoods,” said North, 35. “Small business owners such as myself work very hard to provide jobs to deserving workers and citizens in Detroit.”

The report indicated that Detroit has seen the largest increase in jobs that pay more than $40,000 annually. But those jobs are concentrated downtown and midtown and in the city’s core industrial areas leaving Detroit’s neighborhoods out of the economic boom.

And when it comes to entrepreneurs, the report said there are 160 black-owned companies per 1,000 African-American residents and 103 Hispanic-owned firms per 1,000 Hispanic residents. Both groups, according to the report, are only about half as likely to transition from self-employment to hiring others.

North, who founded Kidz Kingdom last May in her North Rosedale Park neighborhood because it lacked educational and recreational facilities, said the report is a call to action.

“I need government to actively partner with leaders, residents and business owners outside of downtown to creatively and expediently develop opportunities and solutions for businesses and residents,” North said. “I strongly believe the government can play a major role in driving investment into the neighborhoods.

“While, I have heard there is a shift and focus on the neighborhoods and the people within them, I have yet to see the level of opportunities for residents and business owners outside of the city's center.”

Louis E. James, former chairman of the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority and president and CEO of SEEL, an energy company downtown, said there is an urgency for businesses to step up in light of the bleak statistics in the report.

“There is no credible outreach from companies to the neighborhoods in providing real opportunities for those who really need the jobs. So what we have now is a planned perfect storm,” James said. “We are falling short. There is a lot that needs to be looked at in helping people in the neighborhoods prepare for jobs. We are missing a lot of people in this comeback of Detroit.”

James called the report embarrassing and suggested that all business, nonprofit, faith and political leaders band together.

“Right now people need to know what jobs are available and how to get those jobs. Companies that are invested in the city here have to show a real intent and commitment to provide jobs to Detroiters,” James said. “There has to be a real outreach not just public relations outreach.”

The provision of jobs can have a direct impact in the community by addressing inequality and reducing poverty.

Bishop Edgar L. Vann II of Second Ebenezer Church, a member of the Board of Police Commissioners, said he wants poverty to top the agenda.

“It is imperative that we fix the city’s most compelling issue — poverty,” Vann said. “I’ve proposed for some time a one-stop training center where all the corresponding agencies would be under one roof addressing the social determinants that exacerbate poverty.”

Vann said the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 7.5 percent unemployment rate is suspect. “If there is 40 percent poverty and 57 percent child poverty in Detroit, then obviously the reported unemployment rate of 7.5 percent is highly questionable.”

Alice G. Thompson, CEO of Black Family Development, a social service agency in the city, said the key to expanding opportunities is the development of entrepreneurial centers “all across the city.”

“We already have the Randolph Center to train our young people and provide them skilled trade jobs that are so desperately needed,” Thompson said. “Moving forward what we can do is to replicate that strategically in neighborhoods throughout the city.”

Jimmy Settles, vice president of the UAW, said a plan is needed to insure the revitalization is felt all over the city.

“I’d like to see a real urban plan for the whole of Detroit, not just the downtown area or the Seven Mile stretch,” Settles said. “We need more opportunities and vocational training centers because we have to get people who are qualified to get the jobs that are available.”

Former state Rep. Jimmy Womack, D-Detroit, said growth is occurring in some areas of the city including his Northwest Detroit neighborhood.

“Where I live there is clearly economic growth with many shops and restaurants opening particularly on Livernois Avenue,” Womack said. “I think more attention should be given to the employment of Detroiters and the current administration should continue to make this a priority.”

North said it should not be mistaken that revitalizing Detroit and creating opportunity for everyone is also a question of equity.

“We need equitable solutions to development. Gentrification is a nasty word and one may argue you cannot have concentrated development without it. I argue that we must have equitable development,” she said. “We need ordinances and laws in place that continue to hold businesses accountable for hiring residents and creating low-income housing alongside/near or within any development plans within our city.”

“If the government and investors truly care about people of color in this town, we need to see proof and we need to see it fast.”

We should keep demanding answers until city leaders and other stakeholders work to reverse the trend laid out in the Detroit Future City report. The lack of access to quality jobs for many Detroiters is not only adversely impacting the city, but puts us in the throes of an economic disaster.

The question is: What now?

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

The writer hosts “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Super Station 910AM. This column appears Mondays and Thursdays.