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Black biz missing from $3B Detroit redevelopment

Ken Harris

Ken Harris

‘Fairness and equity’ for  80 percent Black city with 32,000 Black-owned businesses

By C. Kelly
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — African Americans, women and people of color are not participating in $3 billion worth of economic development activity in Detroit, according to the Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce, headed by Ken Harris.

The group held a press conference Sept. 18 calling for greater urban economic participation. Harris says attention needs to be brought to African American, urban, women and minority-owned businesses.

“In short, consequential economic growth and development are occurring in select pockets of the community, without the inclusion of local Black-owned and minority-owned businesses,” says Harris. “Black and urban businesses are being systematically locked out of participating in redevelopment projects through institutional policies.”

According to Harris, the Detroit Black and urban business community does not have a strong private and public sector advocate or partner in government to push for economic equality, parity, and a level playing field for institutional hiring, contracting, supplier inclusion, and diversity that would offer a fair opportunity to compete in new economic development opportunities in the city.

Inclusion of African American and Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs), Harris says, is imperative if Michigan plans to compete with other states who market diversity and inclusion to attract business from their competitors, states with lack luster equality and participation of Black-owned and minority businesses.

MBCC organizers say it is “deplorable” that there is not more participation in a city that is more than 80 percent Black, with over 32,000 Black-owned businesses.

“Billions of dollars have been spent on redevelopment projects, from the Riverwalk to Midtown,” Harris told the Michigan Citizen. “Black-owned companies are being denied the opportunity to get work, even on projects which are subsidized by the taxpayers and majority African American residents.”

Charlie Beckham, chairman emeritus of MBCC and past executive director of the African American Association of Businesses and Contractors, A3BC, says the issues have to be put in the “forefront.”

“We have fallen off from where we were 20 years ago,” says Beckham. “At that time, if there was major construction or purchase of goods and services, everyone was monitoring.”

A3BC, was an organization dedicated to the growth and development of minority-owned firms.  One of the founders and executive board members was Michigan Citizen founding publisher Charles Kelly, who passed away in 2006.

In 1992, the organization created nearly a billion dollars in contract opportunities.

Beckham says organizations, corporations and governmental bodies must measure their efforts at diversity.

“You have got to measure what you do to determine if you are successful or not,” he says. “Certainly now is the ideal time. It is unfortunate we have to do it, but with Detroit, and metro-Detroit, poised to make an economic turn for the better, it is a good time to have this effort so that everyone gets to be part of the rebirth and the renaissance of this city. So when this economy rises, everyone gets to go up with it.”

The MBCC has developed a diversity score card as a way to hold accountable the private and public sector, which depend on the African American tax-base and consumer to remain profitable. The Urban Equality Score Card outlines a fairness doctrine for parity in the public and private sector. It distinguishes those who excel in supplier equality and diversity and who ensure African Americans get their fair share.

“We must ensure that Black business flourishes as an economic power recognized by those who profit by its consumer patronage and taxes rendered,” says Harris. “In cities like Detroit, African Americans should be the majority, and prime in the supply chain where the city is 80 percent African American and there are more than 32,000 Black businesses.”

The MBCC will hold its 2013 Urban Economic Conference at the Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center Nov. 7.

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